An Open Hand Of Compassion

Posted: February 20, 2009 in Compassion, Discrimination, Employment, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Money, Poverty

This past Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the $787 billion stimulus bill.

There seems to be quite a bit of disagreement about whether or not the bill will be able turn the nation’s failing economy around. Proponents contend that the bill is the next best thing since sliced bread. Opponents are claiming that the bill is filled with wasteful spending. Sigh.  

One number which keeps popping up is the touted 3.5 million jobs which the bill will supposedly create or save. To tell you the truth, your guess is as good as mine. Only time will tell what the outcome will be – but I’m hoping for the best, particularly in light of a Reuters article I read yesterday.

The headline, Nearly 5 million Americans drawing jobless benefits, made things seem pretty dire.

The article quoted Kevin Logan, a senior economist for Dresdner Kleinwort in New York, responding to the U.S. Dept of Labor’s ETA Press Release,

"The data indicates an accelerated deterioration… jobs are being lost and the pool of unemployed is growing faster. People cannot find jobs."

The question that popped into my head straightaway was: "What happens when those folks’ benefits run out?"

On average, those who are eligible can receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. However, once those benefits run out they can apply for "extended benefits" – which will allow them to continue to receive benefits for up to an additional 20 weeks.

The one thing I did note in the Dept of Labor’s press release was that it mentioned the current number is up 170,000 from the previous week. This means the majority of the 5 million were already getting benefits. That in turn, caused me to wonder how many of them are close to losing their benefits – which brought me back to my original question: "What will happen when those folks run out of benefits?"

Hopefully, some of them will be fortunate enough to find some form of employment. However, with the national unemployment rate currently at 7.6 percent (11.6 million) and many companies announcing a cutback in their work force, their chances are slim.

Inevitably, some of those folks will find themselves without any income. And, unless they’ve managed to set aside some financial reserve, they will find themselves unable to pay for housing.

Once they lose their homes, they will have become part of America’s homeless population. It is at that point that their lives will be turned upside down.

Some will be able to forestall having to use their local shelter system by doubling up with family or friends. Even so, there will be those who do not have that "safety net" and will ultimately find themselves out on the streets – quite literally.

After the initial shock of becoming homeless, they will soon discover a lack of resources to assist them in regaining a foothold back into the community.

To be sure, local homeless support services agencies will do what they can to feed and – if possible – provide them with temporary shelter at their facilities. In some of the larger metropolitan areas, the HSS agencies may even provide them with a list of other agencies which provide services to the homeless. However, they will find those services are also "supportive" rather than remedial.

Even sadder than the lack of resources is how they will be viewed by many in the mainstream community.

Because of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with homelessness, they will experience feeling segregated from the rest of society.

Folks will avoid eye contact with them; looking past them as though they aren’t there. Some will assume that they are homeless due to some fault of their own. Others will openly display hostility toward them.

There is no way of knowing for certain how many of the 5 million currently receiving unemployment benefits will eventually find themselves homeless. Prayerfully, none of them will. However, considering the economic situation the nation is in presently, it is reasonable to believe that some of them will. And, it will not be because they’re derelicts; or drunkards; or lazy. It will be because they are victims of circumstance.

As a nation, we must ask ourselves how many more of our family, friends, and neighbors will have to become homeless before we are ready to let go of our prejudices toward the homeless?

Our nation’s homeless don’t need us shaking a fist at them.

Instead, they need us extending an open hand of compassion.


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