Last week I read an article in the Toledo Journal: Tent City raises awareness of homelessness. At first, the words, "tent city" in the title made me think it was going to be just another article about some city’s local law enforcement dismantling a homeless encampment.
I’ve read so many of those types of articles that I could almost envision the story line. Homeless folks had set up an encampment. Local residents had become aware of the encampment and had complained to their local leaders. The police were sent out and upon their arrival, gave the homeless somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes to gather up whatever they could carry. After that, the tents were torn down and everything was carted off to the local landfill.
Talk about being wrong.
As I read through the article I discovered that the "tent city" in question most definitely had something to do with homelessness. But there were no homeless living there. And, it wasn’t slated to be dismantled by local law enforcement. In fact, this specific tent city had been deliberately set up by non-homeless folks. The purpose was to raise public awareness about homelessness in the Toledo area. It was an actual event which occurs annually and is called: Tent City.
Not only was the event put together to raise public awareness, it also offered a number of free services which are not often times available to a community’s local homeless population. During the week long event the homeless had access to services such as: flu shots, HIV testing, vision and hearing screening, and dental work.
For me there was one quote in the article by a homeless gentleman, Anthony Huggins, which was especially moving,
"Today is beautiful because I got a flu shot, some socks and shoes"
His appreciation for having been able to get socks and shoes caused me to reflect on how often we take so many of life’s most commonplace moments for granted.
For most of us, getting a pair of socks is a simple matter of reaching into a bureau drawer. Even getting a pair of shoes isn’t a major ordeal for most folks. However, for a homeless person who spends most of their day on their feet walking from one part of town to another, or who may have to wear the same pair of socks for a week or more, getting a new pair of socks is like receiving a priceless artifact.
But, the one quote which re-affirmed my belief for the need of every community to raise its public awareness about homelessness, was right at the beginning of the article and was spoken by a Ms. Tara Burkett,
"Sometimes when you don’t see firsthand what’s going on regarding homelessness, then it’s easy to dismiss."
I don’t believe that we, as a society, lack the capacity to be compassionate toward the homeless. Nor do I believe that we aren’t able to empathize with the homeless. Quite as a matter of fact, I know for certain that there are those folks who "go the extra mile" when it comes to reaching out to the homeless. Yet, as a society, we still seem unable to do more than offer the most basic of services. And, I’m not entirely sure why.
Perhaps we have come to believe that homelessness cannot be solved and that’s it’s no use in trying. While it’s true that I personally do not believe that the numbers of homeless will ever reach absolute zero, still it is a goal worthy of pursuing.
Or maybe, we’ve come to believe that it’s solely the responsibility of the local governments to address homelessness within our communities. As a result, we don’t feel compelled to "roll up our sleeves" and become involved.
It could also be that we’ve come to believe that everything that can be done to help the homeless is already being done. Therefore, we don’t recognize the need for us to do anything more than make limited donations to those agencies and organizations which provide services to the homeless.
I realize that the current economic situation in our country makes it difficult for many to make financial contributions to homeless support services organizations. But truth to tell, if everyone contributed what they could – regardless of how little or how much – it would go a long way toward allowing those organizations to provide better and more effective assistance to the homeless.
It seems to me that the first step is to recognize that the homeless are a part of our communities. As such, they are entitled to the same basic freedoms and rights as everyone else.
Once we come to accept that, we may finally understand that if we truly want to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities, all of us – homeless and non-homeless – must take an active role in becoming a part of the solution.
It’s about teamwork. It’s about a community coming together and working toward a common goal.