Another serious post today… but I’ve been in a serious mood lately, so the funny will come out. Just not today.
I will attend my neighborhood association meeting tonight, where we will discuss the homeless “problem” in Arlington, VA. I’m expecting my rich neighbors to comment on the lack of safety, the nuisance of having a homeless person approach you for money; and to suggest a way to keep them hidden… without saying it in a lot of words.
Certainly, many of the homeless are mentally ill and/or drug addicts. A lot of them will get angry if you don’t give them any money, not enough money… or a sandwich in lieu of money. Some will harass you. Be mean to you. Try to provoke you. But folks, that is not the rule. Most are harmless.
I volunteer at our county’s homeless shelter. You would be shocked just how many people… are just like you and me. Perfectly normal folks who were living one paycheck away from foreclosure… With some nasty luck, they lost their job… their house, and now are living out of their cars. Or on the street. Sometimes with their kids.
Now that I know who some of the homeless are in my community, you would be shocked just how pervasive they are in our society. I regularly run into them on the bus… the markets… the open community spaces. You would not even know that they are homeless. Most leave you alone, leading their own lives. (Honestly, the only indicator that I’ve found to tell if somebody is actually homeless… is if they are lugging around a huge backpack. Folks, that’s their entire worldly possessions in there.) Most of the homeless in my community are NOT stereotypically panhandling or asking for help… they are too embarrassed to even ask for money. They take odd jobs here and there to buy a burger – maybe their only meal of the day. Any remaining part of the day is spent painfully walking or busing to their homeless shelter, where they can shower, do some laundry, maybe get a meal, and talk to their case worker about perhaps applying for more jobs so they can have enough savings for a security deposit for an apartment/communal living situation. It’s a hard life.
And for those of you that say that they should just get a job… well, I wish it was that easy. (In this economy, I know well-educated people with roofs over their heads that cannot find decent employment.) Securing a job is even more difficult if you’re homeless. First of all, it’s hard to even apply for a job if you don’t have a permanent address. And when you don’t possess proper interview “attire,” it becomes even more trying. Their lives are stressful enough trying to dodge life’s daily put downs from the public… they are not going to “prepare” for an interview. Indeed, many of the homeless people I know will take ANY job… scrubbing the floors and toilets… hard labor… anything to get out of their situation. But honestly, as an employer, are you going to hire somebody who doesn’t have any legal connections to their community over someone who does, just for the sole purpose to give them a head start in life? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
One final thought before I get off of my soapbox. I have spent time in India. A place where chronic homelessness is an even more pervasive part of society than ours. I have witnessed strangers drop dead, skin and bones, in front of me due to chronic undernourishment. For those of you who feel that their tax dollars should not go to people who cannot/will not help themselves, I’d like you to spend one week in India. Would you like to see people starve and die right in front of you? That’s what would happen if we cut off homeless services altogether.
Through the services that YOU provide, for some, even against the odds, they are able to improve their lives drastically – getting out of their horrible predicament one step at a time. For others though, it is not that easy. I, for one, am happy that in America, we do value goodwill and take care of our most vulnerable members of society.