Instruments of Hope

Posted: June 24, 2008 in Compassion, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

Yesterday evening I came across an article in the Evansville (IN) Courier Press – Homelessness in Evansville: disproving stereotypes sets stage for solution.

There were a number of quotes which specifically caught my eye.

The first was about midway down the article and was a quote by a Ms. Judy Thomas, the director of the local YWCA,

"Homelessness is always something that is unpredictable."

Homelessness is indeed an unpredictable occurrence.  

With today’s current national economic situation, it doesn’t take all that much to push an individual – or family for that matter – into homeless. A suddenly medical emergency; a job loss; a rent increase; a couple of missed mortgage payments – even a divorce – can create the potential for homelessness.

Usually homelessness is caused by a combination of factors which, in and of themselves, might not seem like life shattering events. Collectively however, each of these factors contributes to a downward spiral that is difficult to reverse – or even stop – once it begins. Once this "fall" has begun, the best one can hope to do is minimize its overall effects.

Unfortunately, once a person has hit bottom, finding the necessary types of assistance required to get out of homelessness is near to impossible. The reason for this is because there just aren’t that many organizations or agencies that actually provide more than just a meal or a bed. And it takes substantially more than that to help a person regain their place in the community.

Another quote in the article that caught my attention was spoken by Sarah Wolf, of the House of Bread & Peace, a local shelter, who said if there was another shelter in Evansville,

"… I’m sure we could fill it up."

But she noted that, ultimately, the solution doesn’t lie in creating more shelters, it lies in creating more access to affordable housing.

Consider that the record numbers of foreclosures taking place across the nation all have the same thing in common: folks can’t afford to pay their mortgages. Not enough money coming in to cover their expenses.

It’s the same thing with rental units.

As Americans are forced to pay higher prices for goods and services, they are finding that their paychecks are not stretching as far as they used to. All the more need for an increase of affordable housing units. Unfortunately, the numbers of affordable housing units is continually shrinking as the need outpaces the supply – and there are very few new affordable housing units being built. As a result of not being able to afford a place to live, folks find themselves becoming homeless.

Another sentence which caught my eye, was near the end of the article by Kat Isbell, who is the Education Director for a local Evansville group that is striving to end homelessness in that community, and is quoted as saying,

"Homelessness affects an entire community, and it takes an entire community to end it."

There’s a bittersweet poignancy to that last sentence.

I’m willing to wager that there isn’t anyone who doesn’t want homelessness to be a thing of the past in their community. I personally don’t know anyone who thinks we should being doing more to increase the numbers of homeless.

Let’s be honest about it, all of us want the homeless off of the streets of our communities, but there are very few of us who are willing to be the instruments which make that happen. We want someone else to do it. We ourselves don’t want to be bothered; don’t want to get out "hands dirty." All we know is that we want the homeless gone – preferably to some other town.

Subsequently we applaud our elected leaders when they pass laws and ordinances which "make it tougher" on the homeless. After all, we don’t want the homeless to have it too easy, do we?

And really, isn’t that the reason we won’t provide the adequate funding to implement and maintain the types of programs which have the potential to assist the homeless escape homelessness?

If we want to end homelessness in our communities, then we – each and every one of us – must become the instruments of change. We must be willing to give ourselves the permission to see beyond the stereotypes and begin recognizing the humanity in each person – homeless and non-homeless.

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main…"
– John Donne, 16th Century English Poet –

We are all interdependent upon each other in one way or another. What hurts one of us, ultimately hurts us all.

Do you want to see an end to homelessness in your community?

Then you must get involved and become an instrument of hope.

  1. Evelyn Adams says:

    I wish there could be an exchange program between our two communities, established, a kind of buddy-up system—Evansville and San Luis Obispo. We could certainly use their expertise here, and exchange one of our homeless services employees to learn all they could in Evansville. However, it would serve us to also learn the evolution they went through to have developed the forward attitude and willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to affect futures. What a remarkable resource and call to action you’ve shared, Michael, thank you!

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