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Posts Tagged ‘helping the poor’

Reading other blogs about homelessness is a curious thing.  There are blogs by those who are or have been homeless, those who work or volunteer with a homeless clientele, and blogs about other topics that mention homelessness once in a while (typically when the author has an encounter with a homeless person).

The most frequently commented upon blog articles seem to be those about an individual’s first night of homelessness.  I admit, I frequently leave comments on these articles myself.

Why is it that we’re so sympathetic to the person who experiences their first day of homelessness, but callous toward the person who has been homeless for months or years?  It’s a matter of perspective.  The person spending a stray night in a homeless shelter could well be us, we think.  

What if we lost our jobs and had a concurrent major illness?  What if a loved one (or ones) passed away suddenly?  What if . . . whatever combination of tragedies it might take.  I think we’ve all had thoughts that it could be us.  For some it might take more tragedies than others, but the possibility is there.

In considering the chronically homeless person, we’re less sympathetic.  Why?  Because we believe we cannot sink to that level.  We would pull ourselves out or find help somehow.

We may be able to make the leap to understanding who someone (even ourselves) can become homeless, but we believe that if you’re homeless for more than a few weeks, well, you must just be lazy.  Or ignorant.  Or an addict.  Why don’t they just get jobs after all?  Or just apply for the loads of benefits we finance through our taxes?  Or get social security?

We fail to consider the psychological effects of life on the streets.  It takes many of our clients several days to warm up to staff at the Respite and our mission is to help them.  Imagine how difficult they find it to reconnect with family and friends.

And all those “free benefits”?  True, they’re out there.  But how long can you afford to wait?  It can take weeks to qualify for food stamps, months to gain tenant-based rental assistance, and years to be awarded social security disability.

As for employment, would you hire someone who admitted to being homeless?  How about someone who claimed to have stable housing, but was mysteriously never home when you called?  Would you hire someone with dirty fingernails or ragged clothing?  Maybe you would.  Then again, maybe you’d prefer to hire the clean-cut teenager who made the honor roll last quarter.

Are we really as impervious as we believe?  Or is the hard truth that homelessness, once it happens, can be nearly impossible to escape?  How many of these truths do we ignore because they are simply too frightening to accept?

The ultimate truth is surely more complex, but everytime I read comment-loaded articles about an individual’s first terrifying night as a homeless person, I wonder.

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Happy Blog Action Day!  Despite writing about homeless people and the medical needs of this population all the time, I sometimes forget to consult the panel of experts (often referred to as our clients) that hang out on the Respite porch every afternoon.  Today, everyone was playing cards.  They let me interrupt to ask this question about poverty: What does it mean to be poor? 

Being poor means .  .  .

. . .fear of the future.

. . .a certain state of mind.

. . .appreciating things more.

. . .being scared.

. . .being treated like a second class citizen.

. . .there’s nowhere to go but up.

. . .you work hard to change your life to make it better.

. . .being frightened.

. . .wondering where meals will come from the last week of the month.

. . .lack of knowledge, not having much self-esteem.

. . .lack of independence.

. . .being without and being depressed.  Every day of being homeless is depressing.

. . .insufficient funds.

. . .being lost in the world.

 

I bolded the answers that my “experts” liked best.  Those two responses elicited an immediate approval from everyone in the vicinity. 

Finally, do you notice now many answers revolve around fear?  For those experiencing homelessness, extreme poverty is more about fear than money.

Another tenet of Blog Action is discussing solutions to the issue.  This is a gargantuan task.  Money alone isn’t going to work – everyone at Respite told me that today.  Compassion would be a start, maybe a huge start.  There is so much animosity towards those who are poor in the United States.  We’re willing to travel extreme distances to help out abroad; what about those in our community who are in need?

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It seems that winter has struck early this year.  Not so much in terms of weather, but in the increased amount of homeless people needing shelter and medical care in these first few days of October.  I believe that most homeless shelters experience a similar, weather-related trend: in the summer, occupancy rates go down because it’s more comfortable to “sleep out.” 

In the winter, however, some people are forced to follow rules they might otherwise reject; stay sober or sleep in the snow?  I wish I could claim this was not the case, but it seems to be so.  On the upside, cold weather gives us a chance to reach and help more sick people.

Unusually enough, however, we have seen a recent, prolonged increase in referrals even though temperatures are hardly uncomfortable outside.  I wonder if this is a result of chance, or the economy (anyone else trying hard to ignore that?), or some other factor I haven’t considered.

What do you think?  Will the current economic conditions cause shelters nationwide to be flooded with fellow citizens in need?  Or is this trend a fluke?

Some industries applaud a waiting list of customers, but not us!  We’re happy to help and thrilled to be a part of breaking the cycle of homelessness for so many people each year, but it pains me to think there will be people in need whom we cannot help, perhaps in unpredented numbers.

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Welcome to my new Friday Feature: Songs that Remind Us of Homelessness.  Our housing counselor, LaDonna, shared this catchy song with me last week.  She’s been busy this week moving three new clients into housing, but found a few minutes to share “Mr. Wendal,” an Arrested Development piece that reminds her of our clients.

Don’t miss this song – it’s a blast from the past and a peek into the head of a great lady who works incredibly hard to get the homeless off the streets every day. 

LaDonna said she likes the song for its ideas (“Civilization, are we really civilized? Yes or no, who are we to judge?”) and the soul of it.  Also, “it gives some idea of homelessness to people who are clueless – the ability to look at one of these people and say this is a person, not just someone who lives on the street.” 

 I liked her idea so much, I’m doing a new song every week, so bookmark this site and check back!  I’ve already got a piece lined up for next week.

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