Tip Of The Iceberg

Posted: July 26, 2008 in Friendship, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing

Because I have a love of learning, I have Encarta installed on my computer. I have it configured so that every time I open the program it loads an entry at random. Yesterday it loaded an article about icebergs. It was pretty interesting.

As it turns out, icebergs are huge slabs of ices which have broken off from a glacier. The official term is "calved."  

According to the article, only about one fifth of an iceberg is above water. The bulk of its mass – about 80 percent – is submerged. I guess that’s where the phrase "the tip of the iceberg" came from, because what you see on the surface is just the top portion.

So with that bit of information tucked away in my brain, I went about my day. I didn’t give it anymore thought until I ran into a homeless couple who I’ve spoken with on a number of occasions.

After we’d said our hellos, they excitedly began to tell me the good news: they had managed to find a place to live. They are due to move in at the beginning of this next month. I was so happy to hear the news that I gave them both a hug. What made that moment all the more wonderful was the sparkle in their eyes. Even their faces seemed to have a glow. And, although it may have been just my imagination, it seems to me that they were standing a bit taller; a little straighter – as though there had been a heavy weight lifted off of their shoulders.

Perhaps the most touching moment of the conversation is when they gave me their new address and said that I was always welcome to drop by whenever I was in the neighborhood – and that just as soon as they were "settled in" they would invite me over for dinner.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if there is another reason, but I felt a lump in my throat and had to blink several times to keep that one stray tear from escaping out of the corner of my eye. And I felt honored – and humbled – to have been given the invitation.

Later yesterday evening, I was still feeling happy for this couple. And it came to mind that in less than a week’s time there are going to be two less people having to sleep out on the streets of the community. But it was also a bittersweet moment, because I know that there are still so many others who will still continue calling the streets of SLO home.

This couple – who are soon to become housed members of the community – are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Tonight, approximately 80 percent of the community’s homeless will have to find some place out of doors to sleep – it’s called "sleeping rough." And, rough it is.

For those who haven’t "set up camp" somewhere, it will be a search for a place that is relatively safe and as well hidden as possible. Some of them will be lucky enough to have some blankets or a sleeping bag in which to wrap themselves. Some of them will use their coats or jackets as a covering. And some will just have to make due with nothing more than the very clothes they’re wearing right now.

Another thought occurs to me. Even though this couple will technically reduce the numbers of homeless by two, it’s also a distinct possibility that by the time they move into their new place, two or more homeless will have been added to the local homeless population. And we, as a community, will be right back where we started.

There are some homeless folks in SLO who are receiving monthly disability or retirement checks. But aren’t able to get off of the streets. There is a lack of affordable housing. So, even if all of those homeless who are receiving checks each month were adamant about finding a place to live, there is a strong possibility that they would still end up remaining homeless because there just aren’t enough low income housing units to go around.

I’ve always believed that the best way to reduce the numbers of homeless in the community is to help them become housed members of the community.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter how much we provide as far as homeless support services are concerned. If the homeless aren’t able to find or afford a place to live they will still be homeless.


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