The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two primary misconceptions which have created barriers to reducing the numbers of America’s homeless. The first is the belief that most homeless persons are drunkards, drug addicts or some other type of social malcontent. The second is that there are adequate government and private services available to assist the homeless get off the streets if they choose to be helped.
Considering that both of these beliefs are so far from the actual reality, and despite evidence to the contrary, most folks continue to cling to them as though they were written in stone.
I’m not sure if it’s just complacency on our part as a society, or because if were we to concede that the homeless are not what we’ve made them out to be, we’d be faced with another dilemma: having to admit that we’ve deliberately ignored the pleas for help from our fellow citizens. And let’s face it – no one really wants to admit that they were wrong.
While it may be true that once upon a time, the majority of homeless did indeed fit the stereotype, the face of America’s homeless has changed dramatically. Long gone are the days of the homeless being vagabonds who would ride freight trains from town to town. Today’s homeless are now comprised of senior citizens, Veterans, women and children.
Lately, as I’ve read through article after article about homelessness throughout the nation, I’ve noted that more families – in particular, single mothers with dependant children – are finding themselves without a roof over their heads. The increasing numbers of homeless families is disturbing.
One recent article in the Christian Post, Survey: Homelessness Hitting Women, Children Hardest, stated:
"High fuel and food prices, economic turmoil, and foreclosures are leading more families into homelessness and hitting single women with children harder than any other group, according to a recent survey of homeless people.
Women with children made up 66 percent of the homeless families counted in the survey conducted last month by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) – a jump from 55 percent in 2007 and the highest figure recorded by the 270-group association in the last eight years."
In the same article, John Anderson of the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond, California said,
"In September, we turned away more than 1,100 individuals, mostly women with children. We just didn’t have room for them. Our turn-aways have jumped more than 400 percent from the same month last year. The increase began in mid-July and has been steadily growing ever since."
I find it alarming that so many women and children are being turned away; that so many folks are having to find alternative places – usually public areas – to sleep. That in itself is a clear indication that there are not enough homeless services available to meet the need.
Yet, so many folks, if and when they happen to interact with a homeless person, will be quick to point out that "…. there is a shelter in town to help" those folks who don’t have a home. Yet, they aren’t aware that most shelters and other homeless services agencies do not have the resources or the manpower to the handle the increasing numbers of homeless.
Saddest of all, however, is that the increase in homelessness isn’t occurring as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. Nor is it being caused because folks are being irresponsible or lazy. Many folks are finding themselves without a home due to unavoidable circumstances.
Executive Director, Burt Rosen, of the Knox Area Rescue Mission in Knoxville, Tennessee, noted different reason for the increase.
"Our mission’s family residential program has seen an unprecedented demand from families where neither parent has a noted need for drug or alcohol recovery services. They are displaced because of loss of job or home and just need help getting back on their feet."
The homeless in our communities are not strangers. They are people some of us know: family; friends; co-workers; neighbors. That they have found themselves homeless – regardless of the reasons – shouldn’t lessen their value in our eyes. It shouldn’t cause us to shy away from reaching out to them. It should not prevent us from seeking ways of assisting them as they struggle to rebuild their lives.
Presently, most American’s are feeling the effects of the current economic crunch. Personal and family budgets are strained. There aren’t many folks who have anything to spare after the bills are paid. Many may even be one paycheck away from finding themselves homeless.
Still, as little as most of us have, there are those in our communities who have even less.
Individually, none of us may the capacity for making an impact on reducing homelessness in our communities. Collectively however, we have the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of those folks who find themselves without a place to call home. All it really takes is a desire to help and a willingness to give.
A couple of evenings ago, I read a poem, The Gift Of Loving, written by M.H. Ferris on her blog. Although it was only four lines in length, it carried a powerful message.
She has graciously granted me permission to share it with all of you.
The Gift Of Loving
The gift of loving
Touches this heart of mine.
The gift of your giving
Keeps me in touch with the Divine.