“People descend into this world by different paths. To live on the streets is akin to standing in the rain: some are better equipped for this than others … but rain falls equally on all.” – Andrew Vachss (author of Haiku a novel about homeless)
On my way to work there is a place where there is always a homeless person with a sign looking for money. I try and give something to someone every time I have an opportunity. Even with that … well … I feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable for me <I am not proud of this … but I would prefer avoiding them> and for them <I cannot envision it is easy to stand with a sign and ask for m oney>.
I will get to the ‘me’ portion but I also see a trend in how each homeless person asks for money.
The single people, who get money, leave as soon as they get something. It is almost like they just need something so they don’t have to be there anymore.
And then there are the couples … or the man standing there with a sign saying he has a family and needs help. Whew. These guys stick it out. Whatever you may personally feel about the homeless they look very much anguished … and extremely uncomfortable … but they will do whatever it takes to fulfill whatever obligation and responsibility they may have.
Regardless. I gave one young man a 20 dollar bill and he cried.
And, maybe because of him, I started writing this.
Because I know many people feel that all homeless people are entirely to blame for their situation. And they believe that “in their shoes they would do whatever it takes to get out of that situation.” Oh. And by “whatever” I don’t mean anything illegal … but rather McDonalds, sweeping floors or whatever.
I tend to believe that it is those same people who believe that under no circumstance could they find themselves homeless.
I say that because I would imagine at some point I felt that way. And … well … I don’t like that.
Because now? I don’t know. Homeless seems attainable to me. Will it happen? I doubt it. COULD it happen? Absolutely not out of the realm of possibility.
Almost no one <outside of the infamous 1%> is honestly out of the realm of possibility.
All I ask here is that you take a minute and think about it.
Maybe not whether you could end up there … but the guy who cried. The person who you gave something to and they apologized, or made some excuse, for asking & taking. Those people are on such the edge of their pride that you KNOW that if they could be doing anything else, rather than being there, they would.
And in those few who show contrition … they give voice to the many who just stand there and are silent.
Ah. The silent ones.
Because I can absolutely see how someone’s pride has been eroded so far, simply out of survival, that they find a little corner in their mind to store away their pride just so they don’t go mad as they survive.
I would guess it is the same corner in a mind that a prostitute puts their self-esteem when they do what they do to survive.
Regardless. I did some research.
Most people are homeless due to circumstances that have overwhelmed them combined with the lack of a family support structure.
Others, particularly teens, often become homeless due to an actively hostile, perhaps even hazardous, abusive, or non-supportive family environment.
So what this means is that most of these people are in this situation because they don’t have a support system.
Yeah. Think about that (going back to a ‘realm of possibility’ for each and every one of us).
I imagine most of us have a support system.
But if we didn’t?
Would you change your ‘realm of possibility’ odds?
I tend to believe even the average person without a good friend and family support structure can be overwhelmed by domestic abuse, divorce, unemployment, illness etc.
And once overwhelmed it doesn’t seem like that far a road to being homeless.
I would imagine every one of the homeless has their own story. I imagine someone cares of the common threads that lead them to the place that got them there … I just care that they have a story.
Because once you believe they have a story then they are no longer invisible. Let me spend a minute on ‘invisible’ because there is a site discussing homelessness called “invisible people.” And the site actually shares stories. The stories you see on this site are the real people, telling their own, very real stories… unedited, uncensored and raw.
Here is the preface to the invisiblepeople site & videos before you watch one:
“The purpose of this vlog is to make the invisible visible. I hope these people and their stories connect with you and don’t let go. Some content may be offensive. Our hope is you’ll get mad enough to do something.”
Invisible people: http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/?gclid=CMHz7KXslq8CFQS0nQodtgHALw
But think about it. We <who are not homeless> treat homeless people as invisible <whenever possible>.
Here is one of the best videos:
Homeless Jason on Homeless: http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/2012/03/jason-homeless-youth-st-johns-newfoundland-canada/
I believe homeless become invisible for a variety of reasons.
And, once you think about it, I don’t think it is that difficult to get to the concept of invisibility.
Here is how one writes it:
Once on the street, people started to walk past him, ignoring him as if he didn’t exist… much like they do a piece of trash on the sidewalk. It’s not that people are bad, but if we make eye contact, or engage in conversation, then we have to admit they exist and that we might have a basic human need to care. But it’s so much easier to simply close our eyes and shield our hearts to their existence.
That pretty much sums it up.
And maybe we should care they exist … because more people are going to be entering in the realm of possibility.
Poverty is a common thread among nearly everyone who experiences homelessness.
Whether the reason is situational <medical expenses> or familial <an existing poor family situation> as soon as a household, or individual, falls below or nears the poverty line you become vulnerable.
In my words? Poverty, or extreme financial issues, means you enter the realm of possibility.
Still wonder if it couldn’t be you?
- Many people who experience homelessness are employed. In 2007 the Mayors’ Conference (representing the major cities in the US) found that 17.4% of homeless adults in families were working.
- Up to half of homeless women and children are victims of domestic violence (nationalhomeless.org). Robbed of their own financial and emotional resources, women with violent partners sometimes must choose between being abused at home and becoming homeless.
- About 26% of people who experience homelessness nationwide are mentally ill (Department of Housing and Urban Development).
- As many as 40% of homeless teenagers are lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered). An expert says they’ve come from families that refused to accept them or that began to actively abuse them after their orientation became known.
Some other thoughts to think about.
Homeless people are dirty and in worn clothing not because it’s a fashionable choice, but because they lack access to showers and laundry.
And before you say “just go get a job.” Legitimate employers may be picky about a potential employee’s dirty appearance, but they’re even more picky about there being an actual address and phone number on that application for employment.
As well as where do you believe they would fall in the hiring hierarchy with the laid off middle class workers? It is tough for them to get out of the hole they are in.
In the end … I think it comes down to a simple respect for another human being.
This also reminded me that in a season 1 episode of West Wing, In Excelsis Deo, one of the vignettes is about a homeless person.
The story: Toby goes to meet the police at the National Mall Korean War Memorial, and learns from the on-scene detective that a homeless man was found dead there on a park bench. The man was wearing a coat that Toby donated to the Goodwill that he had left a business card in. Toby wonders why the coroner’s office is taking so long to remove the body, and the detective informs him that since it was not foul play, it’s not a high priority. Toby asks the detective if he will be contacting the V.A., having recognized the man’s tattoo as being that of a Korean War veteran’s. The detective is not compelled to do anything.
In the end of the West Wing episode?
The President tells Toby that he has discovered that he (The President) has arranged for a military funeral for a homeless veteran, the President asks him if he isn’t afraid that it might bring every homeless veteran out of the woodwork … Toby replies …”I can only hope.”
Here is the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqLIH2UiPXg
(I would have to say that this is one of the most thoughtful, touching … finest moments in West Wing history)
Many people believe homelessness is always the result of poor choices.
I believe that homelessness is rarely a choice.
Homelessness results from a set of circumstances in which people are required to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs … and they get stuck with no alternative. And once in? Tough to get out.
This invisible person certainly didn’t begin intending to become homeless. Everyone on the streets has their own story, some made bad decisions, others were victims, but none of them deserves to be left there or ignored.
We should remember.
The homeless people we ignore weren’t always there. And many of them may have looked very much like us <working & in a home & with a family> at one point.
On occasion I find myself looking away … ignoring them … avoiding their eyes. And, you know, I am not proud of that. In fact … I’m ashamed when I realize I’m doing it.
As Toby said on West Wing … “I can only hope that I do better.”
You guys? Make your own choice. I can only share thoughts.