As the song goes: “It’s the most happiest time of the the year”; time to wish a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! The annual pilgrimage of distant families has begun. The turkey dinners are on the table, and all the symbols of the season are in full swing; that is of course, unless you happen to be this unfortunate guy. Now I don’t mean to bring you down at this most cheerful time of the year. Ironically however, there can be no better time than now to shine a light on the separation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nothings.’
How many times have we walked past these ‘street people’ and felt uncomfortable at the mere sight of them? Oftentimes we lie to ourselves that we don’t even see them. Other times we console our consciences with the fact they’ve brought their circumstances upon themselves. Indeed some did, but then again maybe they are merely the victims of circumstances beyond their control.
Who ARE these people? The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimate there are more than 600,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons nationwide. In addition upwards of 2 million people use some sort of emergency shelter or other transitional housing program.
The homeless also include those who reside in homeless shelters at night, in warming shelters, and domestic violence shelters. These unsheltereds also include people who sleep in pulic or private places like subways and cars.
There is an additional aspect to this tragic tale; one rarely acknowledged. In one recent year alone nearly 1,600,000 people used emergency shelters or transitional housing. This is equivalent to 1 in every 200 persons in the United States. This total included 1,115,000 individuals and 485,000 families. Many of these were children and many others were military veterans.
Adding to their misery, these unfortunate men and women are often forced to endure a further insult, one rarely addressed. It is violent crime. A 2007 study found that the rate of crimes against the homeless are on the rise.
To illustrate the depth and desperation of homelessness many
have committed crimes merely to be sent to jail or prison in order to find food and shelter. In police slang, this is called “three hots and a cot” referring to the three hot daily meals each inmate receives along with a cot on which to sleep.
Over the last decade, data concerning homelessness has greatly improved, due in part to initiatives by (HUD),the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and several nongovernmental organizations working with homeless populations. Furthermore, (HUD) has issued an Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which “reports to Congress the number of individuals and families who are homeless in the previous year, both sheltered and unsheltered.”
Ever wonder what street people carry in their backpacks or pushcarts? It’s their most urgent and precious belongings: bedding, clothing and possessions. These must be carried at all times for they are the things that provide shelter, warmth, quiet, and privacy, especially for sleeping.
If you ever wondered how these street people became homeless in the first place, here are some causes:
mental illness or the lack of needed services,
substance abuse and lack of needed services.
child support enforcement
Though I don’t want to overwhelm you with statistics there are some you might find illuminating.
Children under 18 make up 27% of the homeless population; People between the ages of 3 and 50 makeup 51%.
Single adults who are homeless are most likely to be men. They account for 45% of the single adults who are homeless. Single women make up 14%
Ethnicity- African American – 57%; Caucasian – 30%; Hispanic -10%; Native American – 2%; Asian – 1%
50% of America’s homeless women and children are running from domestic abuse.
Veterans – Of all homeless men 40% of them have served in the armed forces. Only 34% of the total adult male population has served in the armed forces 19% of the urban homeless population are veterans.
So, the next time we see a man or woman laying on a street corner we might want to stop and engage him or her in conversation, not merely as a curiosity or a statistic but as a real person. If you can’t find anything to say, the least you can do is care. Remember that same homeless person started life with the same hopes and dreams as you. Who knows what awaits us in our own voyage through life. A sudden change can alter our situation in a blink of an eye. You might find some compassion for him or her.
This blog began with a reference to a joyous song. I’ll end it with cautious one: “I’m talking ’bout the man in the mirror”. (MJ)