In a post I published several days ago, I mentioned a recent Rasmussen Report.
The report stated that 70 percent of Americans believe that the numbers of homeless families will increase over the next year.
What’s more is that roughly 88 percent of adults are a bit concerned about the increase, and 53 percent are very concerned about it. They also believe that the rise in family homelessness will be as a direct result of the nation’s current economic situation.
What the numbers in this poll indicate, is that folks are somewhat beginning to recognize that the stereotypes most often associated with homelessness are actually atypical of the majority of homeless persons.
Yet, those stereotypes still have a tendency to return and haunt the homeless.
We are able to grasp the notion that a family which finds themselves homeless has probably just fallen on hard times. But sadly, when it comes to a single homeless person – especially homeless men – the misconceptions somehow manage to get in the way and all of the derogatory words, which we’ve become accustomed to using as synonyms to describe the homeless, seem to pop back into our minds.
All of that can make it difficult to imagine that a homeless person might possibly have a moral and social conscience.
And, believe it or not – many of them do.
I read about one such homeless gentleman yesterday: 20-year old Allen Heck of Kelso, Washington.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Heck spotted a 9-year girl swimming in the Cowlitz River, when suddenly he noticed that she seemed to be in trouble. So, he dove in to help her.
When he reached her, he managed to keep her held high enough above the water, until they were close enough to the shore – where others were able to take hold of the girl and pull her to safety.
Sadly, Mr. Heck was not as fortunate.
According to the news report from KOMO News – just as he handed the girl to those on the shore, he went under; came up; then went back under a second time. This time however, he didn’t resurface.
His lifeless body was found Saturday morning by search and rescue teams some 50 yards downstream from where he had been last spotted.
Captain Mark Nelson of the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Department had this to say of Mr. Heck:
"Mr. Heck did something no less than heroic. He made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for that little girl.
Now and again, someone does something amazing in life and in doing so, gives up their own. That’s a hero."
When I read the article I experienced two things simultaneously.
One was a sorrow for Mr. Heck and his family.
The other was a sense of wondering.
I don’t know the reasons for Mr. Heck’s homelessness. And to be quite honest, it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that he was a fellow human being. As such, he was deserving of being treated with human dignity – despite being homeless.
As I thought about Mr. Heck having lost his life while trying to save someone else, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people had at one time or another dismissed him out of hand simply because he was homeless.
Mr. Heck was homeless. As a result, he probably had very little in the way of material possessions. Yet, he gave that which was the most valuable: his own life.
His actions in trying to rescue that young girl were prompted by a sense of moral and social conscience and a responsibility to his fellow man.
In his passing, he left us with a lesson to be learned: it shouldn’t matter if a person is housed or homeless. Each life is equally precious.
Perhaps if we, as a society, can learn that lesson, we might find a way to show compassion to those in our communities who have no place to call home – and, in the process, move one step closer to ending homelessness in our nation.
In Memory of: