Do you ever wonder how a person that is homeless came to be in the situation that they are in? Life has a way of throwing curve balls and being unfair at times. It won’t be a perfect ride for anyone, but some people will be hit harder than others. People make bad decisions every day, and consequences to these decisions vary. This is true for the wealthy or the poor, the privileged or the less privileged. I will answer my own question by giving a yes, because I do wonder how homeless people ended up where they are sometimes. I can remember being a kid growing up in Decatur, Alabama and a lot of times I would see people who were homeless and automatically assume that they were on drugs, because it’s what I always heard and it seemed to be the popular belief. It didn’t really hear it from my parents, just people in general. It was always easy for them to be stereotyped as being “crackheads”, without thinking about the fact that there are many ways for people to end up in that situation.
As I got older and learned more about the world, and just life over the years, I began to think more in a broad sense, but no matter how young I was I always thought, “How do people end up not having a place to live? Where is their family?” The truth is, everybody that lives on the street isn’t there because they are a drug addict. We all know people, or have known people, or have heard of people, who had it all together, but were/are doing drugs. A person can do illegal drugs, and get up and go to work on their job as a doctor, attorney, accountant, retail worker or whatever. It’s pretty staggering to me now, as an adult living in Panama City Beach, Florida to see the amount of people that I see on a daily basis without homes or a regular residence. It’s nothing like growing up in my hometown. You can be around here on the regular and see homeless communities like I live in a big city like New York City, Miami or Los Angeles. I saw people living on the streets growing up sometimes, but not like this. It saddens me sometimes.
Look at these numbers… According to socialsolutions.com, in 2016 there were 564, 708 people living homeless in the United States. Over a half a million people. That’s pretty shocking. Also, 83, 170 of those people are considered “chronically homeless”, meaning they are people who have a disability and have experienced homelessness for a year or longer or someone with a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years. 1.4 million veterans are at risk of homelessness, and 50 percent of the homeless population is over the age of fifty. That could be your mother/father, grandmother/grandfather that is older in life and feel like there is no hope of making a better living. Does anyone really think that all of these 500,000 plus people were going to be grownups? There are kids out there with nowhere to sleep at night, or without a regular fixed residence.
This is a nationwide crisis. Yes, homelessness in America is a real crisis, and it shouldn’t be looked at as an “I don’t care, that’s their situation and their problem” type of problem. I get it; a lot of people don’t care, because it doesn’t personally affect them. No person is obligated to have a heart for people living on the streets like me. Over the years I have developed a little bit of a passion for wanting to help them, and it has only grown since I moved to Florida and had a chance to interact with them at times, whether I tried to or not. I have been to a homeless shelter here and heard stories from people. I have heard from people who went to prison for a reason and got out with nothing and never got going or haven’t gotten it all together yet. I have heard from people who went through a divorce, only to end up losing everything. I have heard from people who are content living on the street because they don’t see themselves making back to where they were. The thing I have heard the most is that people were kicked out of where they were living, whether around here or out of state, and didn’t have money to survive.
I have talked to the ones that can say that their downward spiral into homelessness started with drugs or alcohol, and has kept them there. Yes, just like people who do drugs and aren’t homeless, it’s hard to kick that habit when ARE homeless. Sadly, too many people living on the streets served in the military at some point. It’s too bad that these people served in the armed forces only to be living on the streets in the very country that they were fighting for, but even for them the reasons vary. Some of them battle PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is actually defined as “A disorder characterized by failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event”. You can probably imagine that some of the ones that have seen people killed, or had to do the killing, or both, are probably having a hard time recovering, and haven’t had stability since returning to civilian life, because PTSD is more than just a bad headache. If you can’t function because of this, how can you keep a job? If you can’t keep a job, how can you make a living? If you can’t make a living, and don’t have the support system from family and friends, then who is going to take care of you?
I’m not saying that people with PTSD won’t be able to keep employment and be a productive member of society, because that’s not true, and I have personally worked with or been friends with a few people who battled this, but everybody isn’t as strong as the next man. There are 3 million cases per year, according to my research, and everybody doesn’t have the same support from lived ones unfortunately. I recently read the story of a former female basketball star named Schuye Larue, who lives on the streets in Washington D.C. She was once a nationally ranked recruit, a star at the University of Virginia, went and played overseas for a year, was drafted into the WNBA by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2003, but just gave it all up because she lost her desire. She was taken to a doctor by her mother and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has lived on the streets since then. She has turned down help, and endures cold winters on the streets of D.C. after having enough promise and potential to be one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time.
I told that to say that you never know how people end up with nowhere to live, so we shouldn’t judge them or look down on them. These people come from all walks of life. If you are not making big money yourself and are living paycheck to paycheck, you could be one lay off away from being in the same situation. People get divorced and lose it all. People go to jail and lose it all while in there. People do sometimes get addicted to drugs. Some people get kicked out with nowhere to go. Some people can’t recover because they don’t have family to help them. Can you imagine living under a bridge in a cold climate, and not having anyone to turn to that can let you stay the night and give you a hot meal? I don’t even want to imagine that for myself, but I have compassion for the ones that are living that horror. I’m certainly not a rich man, but I help out the homeless when I can. I am only one guy so I can only do so much. No matter what I say, everybody isn’t going to think like me and I understand that.
If I can get at least get one person to look at things differently, then I can feel like I have accomplished something. Don’t look down on these people. They are down on their luck for whatever reasons, which can be their own fault or not, but they are still human. So what that their clothes are dirty, or that they smell bad? It’s kind of hard to keep clean clothes or be up on your hygiene with no daily access to water and a shower to wake up to. Instead of judging and degrading, offer some help. Treat them like people…offer them a few dollars…say a prayer for them. In the meantime, don’t take for granted what you have. So your apartment isn’t as great as the house that your sibling has… Do you know that the homeless guy sitting out on the curb in front of the store that you visit on the regular would love to be able to rent the apartment that you think is crappy? Be thankful.
There is more than likely somewhere in your area that accepts donations of food, clothing and other items for homeless people. If you want to find place to give some things, or just have things you want to give away then I’m pretty sure that a person in need could use and appreciate those things, so why not use google to see if there is a shelter or a church or a place close to you that accepts donations. Take the time to look up the info on how many people in your county are without a regular home. You may be surprised. Think about the fact that some of those people are kids, or may be pregnant, or may be someone’s grandmother. People don’t think about those things for the most part. I think most people just put their head down and walk by, or say “eww” in your mind. That is their right, but put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how hungry they might be. I know they have to abide by law and not trespass or hang out around some places of business, but these people have to have a place to be able to frequent and just chill and enjoy their day just like anyone else, and most of them only hang out with people who don’t have homes like them.
Offering hope is the way to go. Even if you can’t help financially or can’t give material things, just being nice and having a friendly conversation with a person in this situation could make their day. HOPE isn’t reserved for a certain group of people. HELPING isn’t hard, and doesn’t require you emptying your checking. HUMANITY includes all people, and your living situation doesn’t make you any more or less human. Remember that the homeless deserve these three things.