At Risk

Posted: June 10, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Morality

I received a telephone call from a friend of mine two days ago who had found herself homeless for a while following her divorce. Since then, she’s managed to rebuild her life and now operates her own business.

She’s very much the environmentalist and her business is centered around creating products by recycling items that most folks would just through out into the trash – and subsequently would end up in a landfill somewhere.  

One aspect of her business is to help other women who are currently homeless.

Basically what she does is offer to show these women how to do what she does: take things that would be thrown out; use a bit of imagination and creativity; make a product which they can in turn sell to create an income for themselves.

To me, that’s a win-win situation.

The environment doesn’t get abused. Homeless women get an opportunity at learning a skill which can potentially help them rebuild their lives. The community gets a beautiful and unique product at a reasonable price. And, if all goes well, there is one less homeless person – and in some cases one less homeless family – living on the streets.

Yes. It’s most definitely a win-win situation.

One of the obstacles she’s currently facing right now is in getting community support for her efforts. She’s not asking for funding. She’s not trying to get anyone to "sponsor" or "support" any of the women she wants to work with. The only thing she is trying to do is find an outlet for some of the products that are being produced.

What she’s done is put together a small presentation brochure as a type of mission statement which she can submit to various groups and other non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, some of these groups have had a "problem" with how the brochure has been laid out – in particular because of the use of one specific word: homeless.

While some of the individuals she’s managed to speak have expressed a willing to help her further her goal of helping homeless women, they are reluctant to present the idea to their Board of Directors due to the words "homeless" and "homelessness."

What they want is for her to do, is to omit any reference to homelessness and use the phrase "at risk" instead.

When she told me about that, I had to scratch my head.

At risk?

At risk of what?

It seems to me that once a person has become homeless, the risk is long over – unless of course, they mean being at risk of being treated like second or third class citizen by the rest of the community.

The very idea of creating the euphemism "at risk" as a way of referring to a homeless person is the highest form of stupidity I’ve come across in the longest of time.

Is it supposed to be more politically correct? Is it supposed to be a "kindness?"

To me, it seems more like a foolish attempt at not facing reality. But, then of course, considering that we have become a nation with an American Idol mentality, it’s perhaps not surprising after all.

We’ve allowed our thinking to become polluted with "reality TV" – despite the fact that we all know that "reality TV" had nothing to do with actual reality.

You want reality? Well, here it is…

There a millions of our fellow citizens who call the streets of our cities their home. Not all of the homeless are "bums." Not all of the homeless are drunks, drug addicts or lazy. Not every homeless person chooses to be homeless. Not every homeless person is the cause of their own homelessness.

And here’s a little more reality…

We, as a society, have the ability to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless in our own communities.

If there is any actual laziness surrounding homelessness, perhaps it’s the rest of us.

We talk about the need to end homelessness. We complain to our elected leaders that they need to address the issue. We expect someone else to do something because, "Oh my goodness, I’m just so busy and I don’t have the time."

Yeah, right!

What we really mean is that we don’t want to make the time. It’s someone else’s problem not ours.

You want to know what’s "at risk?"

Our morals and our capacity to be compassionate.

The longer we just sit on our collective behinds and wait for someone else to take action, the more we are "at risk" of becoming so morally anesthetized that sooner or later, we’ll become incapable to making a difference.

That’s what’s "at risk."

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Comments
  1. AnAmerican says:

    I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of your friend for not only developing a unique product but for her willingness to share this idea with others who would benefit. Empowerment of others is such a rarity in this world of self absorption. Your friend has come up with a viable solution for self sufficiency for those who find themeselves homeless..this is part of the solution to homelessness. The Board of Directors mentioned seem to be part of a widespread problem with the societal bias that homelessness is something that is handled through apathy & avoidance. Shame, shame on any organization that doesn’t strive to empower & strongly support those who strive for a a way out of homeless.

    There are certain principles that we seem to have lost focus of, which is best said in this quote by one of the founders of our country.

    “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government”
    Thomas Jefferson

  2. Jose M. Lemus says:

    Michael,
    Great material.

    Can you please see if she would be open for an interview to do a special TV segment on her story?
    Let me know
    Jose

  3. Michael, just wanted to clarify what “at-risk” can mean every day in our SLO County.

    The work you do to educate those who appear on the surface to be truly interested in knowing what really goes on behind the scenes of homelessness in our small planet of SLO County is invaluable.

    By allowing ourselves to become a nation mesmerized by the media when it comes to the homeless we’ve been lassoed and caught up in a state of hypnotic and hysterical paralysis and it makes us blind to the women and children who live and are now in their third generation growing up homeless with children of their own, in the dry creek beds of our county, our own creek people. The largest part of them are citizens and residents of San Luis Obispo County, not transients anymore because they’ve been here many many years.

    I thought SLO was alone in having this horrific thing taking place in our pristine county, told daily by my shop browsers that surely there couldn’t be creek people, it couldn’t be true because they’d never seen that many homeless women and children. I would tell then that just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.

    That doesn’t speak very highly of our ability as a human society to find a place in our hearts for sharing our own resources until it hurts, until there are no more children in the bondage of hopelessness in San Luis Obispo County. God knows there are not enough bandaids in this county to go around, but it is up to us to do what we can to offer each homeless person human dignity.

    The stats nationally prove that if you don’t help these lost families they will become a family split, and eventually the adults end up “using” to blot their pain, and the kids learn the same mechanism.

    You know Michael–the hearts of homeless people I have known or cared about are so much more full and open than some of the regular people of SLO County.

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