We feel compelled to add this comment here before you read this expose. We saw it in a newsletter from Jesus Was Homeless & commented when we shared it:
Did you know: “There are 2,000 verses of Scripture that tell us we must be committed to protecting the poor and the oppressed…There is no concern of Scripture that is addressed so often and so powerfully as reaching out to the poor.” – Tony Campolo Courtesy of Jesus Was Homeless newsletter! Thanks for sharing! WOW – this needs to be in every churches bulletin & newsletter EVERY WEEK!
With permission to share this, here it is:
Good afternoon. I have spent the last few days trying to figure out how make this presentation. I have thought about telling my story, which is the same as any other homeless person’s and yet different. Though in my case I have a harder time because of the length of time and the events that have occurred which has led me to where I am at this point in time. My story would actually take longer than the allotted time I have because it encompasses the last 5 decades. But you have heard all the stories already and so what is going to be new except the names and places.
I know that for most of you homelessness is a redundant subject. You have heard the stories and after hearing so many of them you tune out the speakers and let your mind drift to other things. Why, because for the most part all the stories have the same basic theme to them. What is that theme? Something traumatic has happened in the person’s life and blah, blah, blah. They never thought that it would happen to them and blah, blah, blah. They are now at a point where they believe that it can change and they are doing blah, blah, blah. You have all heard it all before. Therefore you may ask why we are willing to come before you and speak when we know that for the most part the audience is going to tune us out. It is because we hope that something will click in one or more of you and with that things will start to change. We hope that things will get better for those of us that are among the homeless.
I have thought about giving you all the different statistics from sources like HUD, the National Coalition for the Homeless, The Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, etc. But all that is just rehashing the facts you already know. Though, I am going to give you some of the facts throughout this presentation, just morsels of information to try and put things into a context that should be easy to grasp.
On any given night there are approximately 750,000 people homeless in this country and to put that into some sort of context, for you this is four times the population of Tallahassee as of the 2010 census, which was 181,376. If all the homeless were put into one city it would be the 16th largest in America. It would be larger that Boston, Detroit, Washington DC, or Denver. And the surprising facts is that up to 40% or 271,000 of them are veterans, depending on the source, are men and women, who signed a check payable to the people of this country for anything up to and including their lives that was redeemable at any given point in time for the freedoms that we all enjoy. And, yet as a country that says they value their veterans and active service members we allow them to fall through the cracks when they are no longer wearing the uniform and become one of the many faceless members of homeless community that inhabit our cities and streets.
But unfortunately the homeless situation will not affect most people’s lives unless it hits close to their home or family. It is difficult to explain the enormity of the situation because the majority of people do not have a grasp on what it is like to be homeless. There is not a point of reference. Unless you live in this world it is hard to describe what it is like to an adequate degree that expresses the issues and makes someone remember it for more than 5 minutes and want to help. It is like trying to explain to a blind person what the color red is. No matter how hard you try they will never be able to grasp the concept of it.
How do you describe what it is to be homeless and living on the ragged edge of society, neither seen or unseen? How can one convey the feeling of worthlessness even though you have skills that few can imagine? How does one convey the feeling of utter frustration they have for their situation knowing that they are trying their utmost best to get out of it? How does one explain the helplessness that is felt when you continually attempt to get the help that you need that would allow you to leave the streets and having those doors slammed in your face? How do you get across to a possible employer that the address you have down is not a real home or the phone number that you have given will only take messages and that there is no way to guarantee you will even get the message?
Most people in the general society believe that the homeless are just lazy bums that want to live on the dole and don’t want to work. They believe that the homeless are drunks, drug abusers, mentally ill or are hiding from something or someone. All of these statements are true,,,,, to a point. But there is more to a homeless person than this.
But, as with any sector of the population you have lazy people, drunks, addicts and the mentally ill. They are not just relegated to the homeless population, but also in all walks of life. And as I was told while in the service, “Assumption is the mother of all foul-ups”. So please don’t make assumptions on what you think a homeless person should be.
That having been said.
When you see a person whom you suspect is homeless, what do you expect to see? Someone that is carrying everything they own or pushing a shopping cart piled high with what you would consider junk? Someone who is passed out from self medicating on alcohol or illicit drugs? Is it someone that is acting irrationally? Or is it someone who is in ragged clothes and is just wandering around aimlessly or sitting around. Or could it be a person that is layered in clothing and it is 80 degrees outside or all of the above? What is your personal image of a homeless person?
In this town there are approximately 400 beds for the homeless on any given night. Yet the latest estimate is that there are somewhere between 1500-1700 people in need of shelter in Tallahassee, even though the point in time count done claims only 953. Where do the rest go? Some sleep in any cubby holes they can find away from prying eyes. Some are in homeless camps unseen by the public. Some are in their cars; some are crashing with friends or family. Some just walk the streets. And most of these people are not counted during HUD’s required point in time canvas that takes place during the last week of January of each year.
Being homeless is becoming a criminal act around the country. Some communities use what is called Greyhound therapy. They ship the homeless by bus to another community whereby it is someone else’s problem. Out of sight, out of mind as far as they are concerned. It is now someone else’s problem, it is no longer affects us or our budget.
Some communities enact regulations that only affect the homeless. Sleeping in a park here in Tallahassee is against the law; you will get a ticket for it, a ticket that you can’t pay because you don’t have the funds to do so. So you ignore the court date. Now you have a warrant for failure to appear. If or when you get caught you have now two charges against you and since you don’t have the money to pay the fines you are sentenced to jail time. Now you have a record. It may be just a misdemeanor but it is a record none the less and most employers now will just throw your application in the trash because there are many more applying for that position who don’t have a record. Now you have something else going against you. It is the start of a nasty repetitive cycle that for most will never end without some compassion and help.
The same thing goes for panhandling, or as the homeless calls it flying a kite. That is a crime and is punishable by jail time, even though I honestly believe it violates the first amendment rights to freedom of speech. You may think that panhandling using a cardboard sign is not freedom of speech but think of it this way. Businesses use human billboards on the streets to get your attention to sell you their product or service. We also have billboards along the roads that inundate you with products and services. Also, churches and service organizations are allowed to solicit funds from the public the same way a homeless person flying a sign does. Isn’t that being hypocritical? Just because the person is trying to get funds for his/her immediate needs does that make them less worthy than a church trying to get funds for their pet project?
Why is being homeless a crime. What have we done that is so heinous that we need to be kept apart from the general populace? I know that for the most part the homeless, the ones you actually see, are not pretty to look at but we are people and have the same dreams and aspirations that you do.
We as a society deem the homeless as something less than human. The homeless are just a problem that they brought upon themselves. They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with life. But how does one get on with their life when they have been thrust into a situation that they do not have the skills or knowledge to deal with? Becoming homeless is a traumatic event, just as being in an automobile accident or a house fire is traumatic event.
When one has been in a traumatic event they will respond one of three ways. The first is to fight, by that I mean they get mad at everyone and everything for them being in this situation. They will fight and argue with anyone that tries to help them as they cannot believe that this is happening to them. They are the ones that are most apt to end up incarcerated because they are ill equipped to handle the issues that are now in front of them.
The next possible reaction is flight. They will run trying to get away from the event thinking that if they put enough distance between them and the issue it will somehow disappear. Another part of the flight response is to self-medicate with liquor or drugs. My main recourse to the issues that confront me is to run as far and as fast as I can. Somehow the problems always seem to catch up to me. I can never seem to lose them.
And the last possible reaction is to freeze. They will do nothing. They believe that if they ignore it, it will go away. It never does. It is still there. And by the time that they are ready to deal with it, it has gotten to a point that it has taken on a life of its own.
Now they are on the streets trying to keep themselves and their belongings safe. They also have to try and find shelter and food. But where does one go to do that? Would you know what to do and where to go to get your basic needs taken care of? As time goes on you get rid of belongings that you deem unworthy to hang on to because they make no sense to keep them because they are doing nothing but taking up space. Things that were important in your former life are now not so much. You pare your things down to absolute necessities and everything else goes by the wayside. You learn to live as expeditiously as possible and realize how little you actually need to get by on.
If you are able to keep a few mementos to remind you of where you came from and what you want to get back to that is a very good thing. But most of us don’t, as we have come to realize that along with the good feelings these items may invoke, they are also reminders of what has happened to us. They may bring about feelings that are not appropriate and may cause us more grief than they are worth. Now your life is in one or two bags when not so long ago you may have had more things than you knew what to do with. Welcome to the streets.
By the way, I am 55 years old, a veteran and I am homeless. What you see before you as to my cleanliness and attire is what you will see anytime you come across me. This is not a special day in which I spruced myself up to make an impression on you. I am one of the many that you would not suspect of being homeless unless you knew me and my story.
Thank you for your time and attention.
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