What do you think about when hearing that someone is homeless. Does your mind instantly think of a man standing on the corner holding a sign? Does your mind think about a military vet? Does your mind think about children? Does your mind think about teenagers? Do you know someone staying with someone sleeping on their couch? All these are the face of homelessness.
I’ve been in the human service field for a number of years. I have worked with people who had three-figure jobs one day to be homeless in a matter of months. I’ve met veterans who served our country for years end up sleeping on the streets. Homelessness is a world within a world that a few people pay attention to. Personally, I experienced homelessness a few months after college. I found myself at the crossroad of going back home to live with my mother or stay in a city where I felt alone. As a fresh college graduate, I saw the world as a great opportunity to get a career immediately. The reality of it was the country was going through a recession and jobs in my career field wanted years of experience. It’s funny looking back now, how do jobs require you to have 2 or 3 years experience for an entry-level job. It took a while to figure that out because it took hundreds of rejection letters. I decided to make a decision to go for it on my own. I face planted and ended up without a place to stay. I ended up sleeping in my car for a few nights to staying in a dorm room illegally and ending up sleeping on my mentor’s couch. Those six months without a place to stay was truly humbling and beneficial. I would often spend my time in the library during the day applying for jobs and reading books. One night while sleeping in my car, I woke up crying and kept crying until my head started to hurt. I always kept a bible in my car and I opened it to started to read it. Every day I would read Pslams 91 to pray to God. Soon everything started to fall into place with a job then I was able to get my own apartment. In my case, this was a short stint with homelessness. There are many others who deal with homelessness for years on end. Working with the chronically homeless for a few years, I’ve seen and heard numerous stories.
The other day while taking a bus I waited inside of a McDonald because it was freezing outside. As I entered the McDonald’s with my 2 bags I saw the staff staring at me. As I waited there was a couple in front of me ordering their food. The couple got the food and sat at one of the booths with their two kids. I wasn’t hungry so I just ordered a drink. As I was getting my drink, I saw the family sharing a meal. The kids were so excited and I looked at how the parents were exhausted. As I was getting up to ask them if they wanted something for themselves, one of the managers came out stating that they had made the wrong order and wanted to know if the family wanted it. The parents agreed and the parents were grateful.
Over the last few years, I have worked with both individuals and families suffering from homelessness. Each story is unique and different. What’s interesting is that the working middle class that politicians talk about are the ones who need help greatly. I have seen how an illness of a family member can cause a person to lose their housing by getting evicted. Take a moment and think if you had a severe illness and couldn’t work for months. All of your PTO, FMLA is gone and monthly bills keep getting behind. Eventually, you get a notice on your door for an eviction.
One thing I have disliked about getting help to prevent an eviction from certain organizations is that you have to expose your bank account records and often times a person makes too much money to receive help.
As a director working with families, I had to make tough decisions about helping those who came into the office needing assistance. The weight of those decisions weighed heavily on me during my time in the position. Seeing kids having nowhere to go was downright heartbreaking. Witnessing the separation of a family when the sixteen-year-old male was sent to a men’s homeless shelter while his mother and other siblings staying in another shelter in another county. In my opinion, the system is broken because of those who misuse the services. There is also not enough funding to help those in need, especially the veteran population. You probably wondering the federal government funding takes care of veterans. While this is true, I want you to ask any veteran about their VA services and how they are taken care of. The answer will be surprising.
Every homeless person has a personal story that many people may never know. Take the time to say hello and offer someone something to eat. Keep some extra bottles of water, bags of food, and hand warmers handly during these winter months. During the winter months, many organizations open their doors for the homeless but the bigger picture is what happens the other months of the year?
That’s an important question!