A few weeks prior to Thanksgiving Day I began receiving a higher than usual number of e-mails from folks around the SLO County area. All of them were similar in that they were from people who wanted to volunteer their time to help feed the homeless on that day.
A couple of weeks ago, I again started receiving e-mails from folks who were wanting to volunteer their time to help out on Christmas Day.
Although I did receive similar e-mails last holiday season, it seems to me that there were more of them this year. To me that’s pretty amazing, especially because of the current economic recession this nation is experiencing. You would think that with folks having to struggle harder to make ends meet, their focus would be more on their own needs than those of the homeless. It would certainly be understandable. Yet, that doesn’t seem to have been the case.
Perhaps it’s because when folks have to struggle, they are more able to empathize with those who have even less than they do – particularly at this time of year. Regardless of the reason, I feel honored to have had these folks contact me. And I did my best to answer all of them in as timely a manner as possible.
But this spirit of volunteerism hasn’t been specific to SLO County only.
As I’ve kept tabs on news feeds from around the country, I noticed quite a number of headlines which have mentioned folks in communities doing more for their local homeless. To me that’s a good thing. However, it’s also bittersweet because I’m aware that this increase in the outpouring of compassion has been inspired by the holiday season.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not complaining. Anytime folks reach out to help the homeless, it gives me a sense of hope. And, it restores my faith in the basic goodness of the human spirit. Still, it would be nice if this "seasonal compassion" would extend itself throughout the rest of the year.
All of that aside however, there were several things I did note about the e-mails I received this year.
First is that quite a number of folks were under the impression that I was affiliated with one or more of the local homeless support organizations. I’m not. I blog about homelessness because – for me personally – it’s the right thing to do. Yet, that these folks contacted me rather than the shelter or the homeless day center is somewhat of an indication that both of these agencies have a need for more public exposure. But, it shouldn’t be just about trying to get the public to donate more money. Instead, what is desperately needed from them is a proactive public awareness campaign.
I’ve been authoring this blog for nearly two years now. In that time, I’ve become convinced that the largest obstacle to reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities isn’t so much a lack of funding as it is a lack of understanding.
I’m not saying that funding isn’t necessary. It is.
But, when folks become aware that not every homeless person fits the stereotype; when they come to recognize that there is a person beneath "disheveled exterior," it has a way of re-humanizing that person. And that’s the key – seeing the homeless as people. Once that revelation occurs, it makes it easier for a person to open their hearts, and subsequently makes them more apt to help. That help, will most often times come in the form of financial donations.
However, it is a double edged sword.
I believe that most folks would be willing to donate to homeless organizations if they felt something positive were being done; if they could see some type of tangible evidence that homelessness was being reduced in their communities. But when folks see the numbers of homeless increasing on their city streets it’s difficult for them to believe that their donations are going to make a difference.
And again, this where homeless support service agencies need to step up their efforts. Continuing to operate primarily as "soup kitchens" does nothing to create an avenue of advancement for the homeless. However, before they can implement programs which help the homeless transition back into the community, they require the funding. And the funding – well, it has to come from the community. Like I said, it’s a double edged sword.
Homelessness is a community issue. It does not affect only those who have found themselves without a home. It affects each and every one of us in one way or another.
Reducing homelessness in our communities requires a team effort. Every member of the community – homeless and non-homeless – will have to put in their "two cents worth." Anything less has no chance of success.
It’s going to take quite a bit more than just "seasonal compassion."