Candidates For Homelessness

Posted: October 27, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions

Homelessness is no respecter of persons. As a result, I’ve developed a strong belief that anyone can experience homeless. And, while it is my personal belief, it’s a belief which I’ve seen validated time and time again over the last year of so. As such, I tend to shake my head inwardly whenever I think about the way the homeless are treated by so many in the mainstream community.  

It’s disheartening to me that there seem to be so many who think of themselves as being better than a person who is homeless. Some actually go out of their way to deliberately make derogatory remarks to a homeless person. But for some reason, they do it in passing and never seem to have the courage to look the person directly in the eye when they make their snide remarks.

I’m not sure if they truly believe themselves to be better than those who are homeless, or if it’s some form of denial: a type of fear that they themselves might end up on the streets. Or, perhaps they’re just mean spirited to begin with. Regardless – it makes me wonder how they would respond if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot. Would they feel that they were getting their just deserts? Or, would they feel that they were being treated unfairly?

Homelessness is beset with its stereotypes, misconceptions and stigmas. While some of the homeless do indeed fit those stereotypes, the reality is that the majority of persons who find themselves homeless do not. They are just regular folk who have found themselves without a place to live due to unforeseen circumstances. And, it could be for any number of reasons: medical emergencies; job loss due to outsourcing or corporate downsizing; divorce; domestic violence; etcetera.

As of late – especially with the currently economic climate in this country – folks who never thought of themselves as being potential candidates for homelessness are finding themselves on the streets. Quite a number of them are folks who no one else would have ever believed could become homeless either.

For example: yesterday I came across a news article in the Contra Costa Times, More middle-class professionals join homeless ranks, which gave several examples of folks who have found themselves homeless – folks who never thought homelessness could happen to them.

One the gentleman the article spoke about was a former business owner who had graduated from Westmont College. After his business went defunct, he was forced to seek shelter for himself and his family at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles. I’m sure it’s not exactly the type of future he had been planning for.

For some folks who find themselves homeless, the experience is such that they succumb to despair and, out of desperation, end up taking things to the extreme. Consider what the article said about one woman who found herself homeless. She had been one of the Union Rescue Mission’s donors:

Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission, said he’s also seeing professionals and other middle-class people coming into the mission who are experiencing homelessness for the first time, including former mission donors.

"We had another donor… who was so depressed at the prospect of becoming homeless that she committed suicide before she kept her appointment with us," he said.

The article gives a number of other examples of folks have found themselves on the streets. None of them were lazy. None of them were derelicts. None of them caused their own homelessness. None of them were the types of folks who fit the stereotypes of homelessness. They were all "regular" folks who were doing their best just trying to get by like everyone else. They all had one thing in common: none of them thought that they’d ever become homeless.

According to the article,

Experts estimate in Los Angeles, only 12 percent of the homeless find shelter each night. The rest sleep on the streets and in vehicles, parks and abandoned buildings – a practice that has become increasingly dangerous as attacks on the homeless have nearly tripled in the last decade nationwide.

In Los Angeles County, and across the nation, experts expect the number of homeless people to grow significantly in coming months as the unemployment rate rises and home foreclosures rocket.

There is no easy solution to ending homelessness in our communities. What makes it all the more difficult to effectively address and remedy this issue are the stereotypes; the misconceptions; the myths; and the stigmas which so many have with regards to homelessness.

As long as we remain unaware of who can become homeless; as long as we continue to believe that all homeless persons are lazy, or derelicts, or drunkards, or drug addicts, we aren’t going to be able to reach within ourselves and allow our compassion to move us to the do right thing.

And, as long as we fail to do the right thing, the numbers of folks who will experience homelessness will continue to rise.

Who knows – you might become the next one to know what it’s like to be homeless and treated like an outcast.

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