One day, I was walking through the streets of the San Francisco financial district and
I came around the corner when I looked across the street and saw a woman sitting on the
sidewalk, bundled in blankets, with a tin can and a sign asking for money.
You could tell just by looking at her that she had to be in her 70's. She had 2 dogs,
well groomed wearing little sweaters. And a shopping cart filled with some very nice
blankets. Still, it was obvious that she was living on the streets, and it was a new
experience for her.
I was so taken back that all I could do is just stand there and look at her. I thought
of my own grandmother, and how if she had not had a pension from working for Pacific
Telephone for so many, she could have easily ended up in the same position.
Nearly 5 million Americans are in the position that if they missed even one pay check,
they could become homeless. 1 million people per year are chronically homeless - and
another 2 million are in and out of the system, living on the edge, teetering back and
forth between self-sufficiency and dis-heartening setbacks. Few are actually lazy and do
not wish to work. Many are working poor. Even more are professional people who have been
displaced due to job layoffs or relocation of jobs overseas - the lucky ones who often can
move back home with parents.
Last year, 37,000 people in New York City were homeless through the winter.
Approximately 11% of homeless people are veterans.
Homelessness is a serious problem, particularly when we talk so much about "hard
working Americans" and pitching in when times get rough and having a fairly low
opinion, as a nation, of people who are poor or homeless.
We say, they should go get a job, or they're too lazy or stupid, or they simply prefer
to drop out of society. Very little of that is true. What is true is that circumstances
have put people in a particular position for whatever reason. Demeaning them will not help
So, what I would recommend is thinking about finding out that in 2 days, you don't have
a place to live, and you and your family have nowhere to go, no savings and maybe no job.
How will you feed your family? How will you bathe and clean your clothes in order to
work? Where will employers contact you if you're looking for a a job? What will you tell
an employer when they ask you why your address is blank on your job application?
It's easy to label something, and the people who fit into that classification. But,
it's unproductive, in fact, it perpetuates the problems that need to be overcome.
Empowering individuals is the only way to solve the problem. It's not about hand-outs.
It's about education, counseling, and assistance in seeking and holding employment.
It's about dealing with the problems so that they diminish as much as possible because
they've been resolved to the greatest degree, not because people have been forced from the
programs to make it appear that the issue has been resolved.
Consider what you might have to do if you became homeless tomorrow, and what you would
need to overcome it. It's not quite as simple as saying "get a job" - especially
in our present economic times.
An organization committed to meeting the needs of the homeless through efficient,
organized services that address the roots causes of this increasing problem.