Over the past week, the news has been covering the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped large parts of the nation.
Even in traditionally warmer climates like Florida, they have been experiencing sub-freezing temperatures. Some farmers in that state are concerned (and rightly so) that their crops may be adversely affected – or that they may lose them altogether.
The frigid temperatures, however, may take their biggest toll in human lives – especially among the homeless.
It’s an easy thing to say that the homeless should just go to their community’s local homeless shelters if they need a place to get out of the weather and stay warm. The tragic reality though, is that are not anywhere near the needed resources to accommodate all of them.
Consider that homeless services organizations have historically been sparsely and inadequately funded. Most of the time, local governments provide funding for everything else first and then, depending on what remains in their budgets, they allocate funding for homeless shelters.
The result is that when homeless services are needed in an emergency – and can be the difference between life and death – they are virtually non-existent or so overburdened that they cannot possible assist everyone.
Consequently, some homeless end up losing their lives; dying of exposure.
According to a USA Today article, there have already been four homeless persons in Nashville, Tennessee who have died because of the freezing temperatures.
What saddens me most about those deaths is that they could have been prevented.
That they were homeless shouldn’t be the focal point. They were our fellow human beings is what should matter. And, that trumps all else.
As a nation, we’ve spent far too much effort talking about homelessness and not enough actually doing something to remedy it. Even – and despite – the "10-year plans" to end homelessness which have been adopted by roughly 300 plus communities across the nation, very little has been accomplished. In addition, the sagging economy has caused more folks to become homeless. In the meanwhile, homeless support services organizations haven’t been expanded sufficiently to accommodate the increase.
Homelessness shouldn’t be a political issue. Nor should it be about the differences between the "haves" and the "have nots."
It should be about helping our fellow man; about behaving humanely to those who are living in the most horrendous and impoverished of conditions on the streets of our communities. It should be about opening up our hearts and recognizing that we, too, might conceivably find ourselves in the same situation one day.
And if we did find ourselves homeless and out of the streets, wouldn’t we want (and perhaps actually expect) someone else to offer us a helping hand? Wouldn’t we be so bold as to even believe that we were worthy of it?
Then it should follow that if we would think of ourselves as being worthy of someone else’s compassion, shouldn’t we likewise think of others as being worthy of that same time of compassion?
Mother Nature may have decided that it was time for a cold spell. But, that doesn’t mean that we ourselves should turn a cold shoulder to our nation’s homeless.