Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine that the homeless actually contribute to our communities.
We see a person pushing a shopping cart; a person digging through trash cans searching for aluminum cans and plastic bottles; or a person standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign. Our minds seem to reflexively think of them as someone who is taking from society but giving nothing back in return. Perhaps it’s just because of their rumpled appearance
The National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Employment and Homelessness, states:
"A survey of 23 U.S. cities found that 17.4% of homeless adults who had children were employed while 13% of single adults or unaccompanied youth were employed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007). In a number of cities not surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors – as well as in many states – the percentage is even higher."
Since America’s working homeless are taxpayers, then it should be quite obvious that they are indeed contributing to society.
The homeless sometimes participate in their community in ways which often times go overlooked or unseen.
I’ve known homeless who have no qualms about helping a motorist push their stalled vehicles to the side of the road, and then go their way without expecting – or wanting – a gratuity. I also know homeless who have offered help or assistance to other "housed" members of the community without expecting anything in return. They weren’t looking for rewards or accolades. They were just doing what they thought was the right thing to do.
Let me give few additional examples –
Last month I came across an article in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. It involved a homeless man living in a tent and a failed attempted burglary.
However, it wasn’t the homeless gentleman who was doing the burglarizing. He is the one who thwarted the would-be burglar.
When he heard the homeless man shouting "What are you doing?" the perpetrator made his escape in a truck.
The homeless man took note of the license plate, and – because he couldn’t find paper and pen – wrote the number in the dirt. When the police arrived he showed them the number and gave them a description of the suspect.
Police apprehended the suspect at a Wal-Mart parking lot a few blocks away thanks to the information provided by the homeless gentleman.
Several days ago I read a series of articles heralding the heroic actions of a homeless gentleman in Winnipeg, Canada who saved a 19-year from drowning.
Faron Hall, was sitting on the banks of the Red River near to the bridge he lives under. That’s when 19-year Joseph Mousseau accidentally fell from the Provencher Bridge into the freezing water below.
Mr. Hall said of the incident,
"He was calling. That was it. I couldn’t really live with myself if I just let him go by. He was in dire straits, to be honest."
"Hall dropped his backpack and dove into the river, swimming out about 15 metres to grab the boy."
In late March, I read a news report of the "contribution" of one homeless gentleman which cost him his life.
The article from KHOU.com, Homeless man killed while trying to help woman, tells of "Homeless Randy" who had been "… deliberately mowed down and killed Tuesday while trying to help a total stranger."
The "total stranger" mentioned in the article was a woman who was being harassed by the driver of a white van.
One of Randy’s friends stated that the driver of the van had jumped out of the vehicle and had gone after the woman.
While Randy was telling the man to leave the woman alone, she managed to escape and run away. Afterward there was a "verbal exchange" between Randy and the driver. It was shortly thereafter that the driver "… jumped the curb and deliberately ran Randy over" with his vehicle.
Too often we see one of the many homeless persons in our communities, but seldom do we actually see beyond the condition. And, because of their less than freshly laundered appearance, we see "homeless" and not "person."
Consequently we have come to think of the homeless as "takers" and not "givers" or "contributors."
I think about the attempted burglary. I think about the near drowning of a 19-year old. I think about a woman who was being harassed. And, I wonder just how differently the outcomes of each of those incidents might have been had those three homeless gentlemen been only "takers?"
I look for a day when we see our homeless through the eyes of compassion and understanding.
Perhaps then we’ll be more ready to reach out a hand of hope to them.