For anyone who has been reading my posts on a regular or even a semi-regular basis, one theme that probably comes across quite often is: homelessness can afflict anyone.
That’s how I personally view homelessness: as an affliction.
Homelessness is not a character trait. Nor does homelessness imply a lack of education, intelligence, morality, or a lack of willingness to work. Homelessness does not mean that a person is a derelict. Homelessness doesn’t mean a person has given up on life. It doesn’t mean that a person is irresponsible. It means that a person does not have a place to live: a place to call home.
Homelessness is a social and economic condition which can occur for numerous reasons.
I have also always been honest enough to admit that there are those homeless who either, through deliberate choice or through their actions, have brought about their own homelessness. And there are indeed those homeless who are content to "sponge off" of the rest of society. These types of homeless are the "poster children" of what most folks envision when they think about homelessness.
While the "stereotypical homeless" may have been the norm several decades ago, the demographics of the homeless of today have changed almost exponentially. It now encompasses folks from all walks of life – including children. Yet, our view of the homeless hasn’t changed all that much. We continue to think of the homeless as the proverbial drunk in an alleyway clutching a bottle of whiskey or cheap wine wrapped in a brown paper bag.
Who are the homeless?
They are someone’s child; someone’s former neighbor; a friend; a co-worker; a fellow parishioner. They are people. And sometimes, terrible things happen to good people. Things unforeseen. Circumstances that are beyond one’s control. Financial or medical emergencies. Job losses due to corporate downsizing. Evictions due to rent increases which a person cannot afford.
Homelessness is occurring all over the country. Even smaller towns – places where people never even considered that homelessness could happen – are feeling the impact.
Consider these three paragraphs from the article, Homelessness is a fact of local life, in the Jacksonville Daily News:
The recent death of a man deemed "homeless" by many of those who knew him has brought to the surface a dirty little secret known only to a few – mostly law enforcement, charities and clergy.
The secret? That Eastern North Carolina and, more particularly Onslow County, has its share of individuals who are living on the edge.
While this is no surprise to organizations such as Onslow Community Ministries, which operates the soup kitchen and a shelter for the homeless, for many residents the idea that some who live in this area have no place to go at night and often do without the basic necessities is a foreign concept.
Or consider this excerpt from, Center helps families combat situational homelessness, in the Island Packet,
For those living paycheck to paycheck, a sudden medical emergency can force hard, financial choices: Which bills get paid?
Emily Bugay, director of Family Promise of Beaufort County, said that is one of many scenarios that leads to "situational homelessness" in which residents must live in their cars or with friends in small apartments.
Until now, homeless shelters did not exist in Beaufort County.
There is an extreme lack of homeless support services to provide adequate and meaningful assistance to our nation’s homeless. But the key phrase is: meaningful assistance.
It’s true that there are not enough shelter beds to accommodate the homeless. However, just increasing the numbers of beds or building additional shelters is not in itself a solution. What must also occur is the implementation of programs which are specifically designed to help the homeless transition back into the community.
Homeless support services agencies and organizations must become liaisons between the homeless and both, the private and business sectors of the community. A rapport must be developed and extensive efforts to raise awareness within a community to the plight of the homeless need to be put into action.
On the other hand, the community itself must also put forth an effort. The community must recognize that they have an obligation to help with the funding of their local homeless support services organizations.
But it doesn’t end there.
The community must be willing to set aside its preconceived notions and ideas of the homeless. It has to be willing to see the homeless as persons who are worthy of assistance; persons who need to have a hand of compassion extended to them.
I’m not advocating giving the homeless a hand out or a free ride. It’s only reasonable to expect the homeless to put forth effort on their own behalf.
But it is also equally as reasonable to give a hand up to someone who has fallen.
It’s called human kindness.