While we’ve been visiting out of town, I’ve almost made it a point to try spotting persons who are homeless – or at least have the appearance of homelessness. And, I have managed to see quite a number of men and woman who are indeed homeless near the central parts of town. I’ve also managed to catch a glimpse of a number of vehicles that are chocked full with what appears to be mountains of dirty laundry and 3 or 4 people all crammed in with it.  

One of these vehicles clearly contained a family that is homeless. I don’t know how long they’ve been homeless. I don’t know if they are from this area or from another part of the state. Yet, despite the disheveled appearance of the vehicle and the belongings of the folks who I saw in the vehicle, the mother and her two children seemed to be making an attempt at trying to maintain a neat personal appearance.

All of these things made me think about the homeless in my community of San Luis Obispo.

There were – and still are – a number of homeless families who are "living" out of their cars. Some of these families are just a couple. Some of them are two parent families with one or more children. Some are single parent families. What they all have in common is a lack of a place to call home.

During the day they use the day center. At night they use the night shelter. In the meanwhile their vehicles acts like a "mini storage." In an emergency – if the night shelter doesn’t have enough beds available on a given night, for example – their vehicle will do double service and become their shelter.

There are other families that I also think about. They have homes. Some have always had a place to live. But there are a number of families I know who haven’t been so lucky. Some of them were homeless when I met them.

A couple of them had been homeless for just a short while before being able to get back into a place to live. Most of them however, had been homeless for a substantial period of time – and although there were different and specific reasons why these families were homeless, they all had in common one thing: they wanted a place to home. More importantly, at one time they all had a place to call home.

I find it amazing that so many people never take the time to recognize that every homeless person at one time or other in their lives had a place that they called home.

True, there are homeless who are homeless as a deliberate choice. There are also those homeless who are so due to a lack of financial responsibility or because they’re just too lazy to work. And of course, there are those who are homeless because they’ve ruined their lives through the abuse of drugs or alcohol. These types of homeless pretty much epitomize what people envision when they think about homelessness.

Yet, one of the things I’ve personally discovered is that the majority of homeless are regular folk who have fallen on hard times. Somehow or other they found themselves falling behind in their bills, or faced a crisis that left them living their lives on the streets. I’ve even met homeless who didn’t have emotional or mental illnesses until AFTER they had become homeless.

There are some homeless I’ve met who had been social drinkers prior to becoming homeless and became full blown alcoholics or substance abusers within a year of finding themselves homeless. And although I myself do not get drunk or use drugs I can certainly understand how a person might turn to drugs or alcohol as a result of being homeless. Homelessness is an extremely stressful existence: emotionally, mentally and physically.

Anyone who thinks that all homeless are the same; or that all homeless persons are lazy and irresponsible; or that all homeless are drunks, winos, drug addicts; or that every homeless person enjoys not having to "work" is a fool.

The truth is that the vast majority of homeless DO NOT fit into the false stereotypes of what most people believe a homeless person to be. For the most part those homeless who are trying to get somewhere in life have a tendency of doing what they can to avoid being recognized as homeless.

Mostly they are trying to hide the fact that they’re homeless because their embarrassed and they know that the majority of American’s are actually ignorant of what homelessness is all about. They know that most American’s look at the homeless with disdain and scorn. They know that once they’ve been labeled "homeless" just the stigma of the word will create barriers in their daily lives.

Hopefully things will begin to change for the better in my community beginning this year and the homeless will be given a better chance at finding a way out of homelessness. You see, this morning, SLO Tribune that talked about…

… No, I think I’ll write about that tomorrow morning.

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