A little segue into a PSA today….(and updated to include links to some resource here in Sonoma County/California. Pretty sure ALL states have something similar!)
NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE
There are homeless people all around us, and around the world.
We all have strong opinions about this population, mostly negative, sometimes justified, of course. And yet…
If only we could change our viewpoint. If only we could see this population having ONLY one thing in common: No place to live.
Because my premise is, “Not all homeless people…”
First, I believe our biggest anger against homeless people is our way of protecting ourselves. Blaming the victim(s) is a way of distancing ourself from what happened to them. “I would NEVER do xyz!” “That would NEVER happen to me!” We blame them for their situation, because none of us want to believe it could happen to us. Or because, deep down, we know it COULD happen to us. Many women (including myself!) fear becoming a “bag lady”. If we lose our partner, or our job, or don’t have enough money saved, well, we could be one step away losing our home, too. And then we’ll be “one of those people.”
We are all one step away from a cancer diagnosis, one step away from losing a loved one, one step away from being scammed out of savings, of relapsing into addiction, a car accident, a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire, or any other major life tragedies. If it hasn’t happened yet, welp, yeah, maybe we’ve been careful, cautious, prudent.
But maybe we’ve just been lucky.
So first….Not All Homeless people.
Not all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics, although drugs and alcohol might well be how some of them mitigate the pain of sleeping on sidewalks, in the rain and cold. Not all homeless people live with mental illness, though for sure it’s harder to get help when your resources are so limited. Not all homeless people are thieves. Not all homeless people are violent. Not all homeless people are alike.
In fact, this population is widely diverse.
Out of curiosity, I checked out some statistics about homeless people. Turns out that, before Covid-19, homeless numbers had dropped by a third between 2015-2020. But Covid reversed all those gains due to illness/death, job losses, evictions, etc. Only 20% of homeless people are “chronically homeless”. The other subgroups are significantly tied to race, gender, and income. Homeless people are disproportionately Black, brown, and LGBTQ.
Statistics also show that most health issues (mental health, addiction) cannot be addressed successfully without getting people off the streets and into homes, FIRST.
We may still disagree about who deserves our help. But here are some ideas through that barrier:
Are you an alcoholic, hopefully in recovery? Or do you have a friend or family member who struggles with this? Consider helping programs with support groups this population could benefit from. (Lots of resources out there, dig a little and find one that resonates with you.)
Are you a veteran, or have a friend/family member in the military? Consider donating or volunteering with vet services to assist this population. (These people already get the most support, but there still big holes in the net.)
Are you a person of color, or do you have a friend/family member whose struggles are harder because of that? Consider contributing to organizations who offer support for this population.
Do you identify as LGBTQ? Or have family members/friends who do, who you care about? You may be very familiar with the difficulties they’ve faced in life. Consider working with organizations that offer outreach these people.
Do you have teens? We were all teens once! Did you struggle as a teen? Consider donating or volunteering your skills with SAY/Social Advocates for Youth, which offers services and some housing for young adults, especially those who aged out of foster care, or (as above) were kicked out of their homes for being gay, trans, etc.
Do you have small children? Were you, or do you know, a parent who is single/divorced who struggles with child care, etc.? Consider donating or volunteering for The Living Room which offers day services for homeless moms with kids.
Do you love dogs? The Samuel Jones Hall, the largest homeless shelter in Northern California, accepts clients with dogs. This is critical, because accepting services often means having to give up your beloved dog. You can donate dog food, grooming stuff, etc. to this shelter.
Do you have compassion for any homeless person who wants to do better, get better, have better? I just found an article in our local paper about two women, formerly homeless themselves, who took over three thrift shops that went out of business due to Covid-19 protocols. ((I won’t go into that story because there’s still a lot of dust settling… from the previous owners.) Intrepid Stores not only hire homeless people, they help them move forward in all kinds of ways. The work they do is amazing. (We forget, for example, that most employers require a HOME ADDRESS when hiring new people. Guess who doesn’t even HAS a home? Yup. Homeless people.)
In fact, this is the biggest reason why homeless people resist shelter services:
They lose the power of their choices. (This is also why some senior citizens resist being placed in nursing homes. You are SAFE. But you cede control of your life, from what you eat to when you pee, for that safety.) Some shelters only serve men, some only serve women, which means partners have to separate, for example.
Even many homeless people who do enter a shelter may still have to vacate during the day. So shelters are a first step, but still a difficult one.
I believe that the harder we work to see the at-risk groups, to see the individuals in this population, the more compassion we can hold for people who did not choose to be homeless, the more we can focus on helping them move forward in life.
Because when we chose love and engagement instead of hatred and fear, we are all better for it. When we choose to see individuals, we can truly help make the world a better place.
If learning to see the actual groups, the real individuals, who need our help, and if our stepping up to the plate could rehome up to 80% of this group, that would be amazing progress, right?
Let’s try it. Use one of your skills, a little money, maybe just your time and compassion, to pick a group you can identify with. And help them take one little…GIANT…step forward.
If you thought this article was helpful, there’s even more in this post on my blog: