Lets start with the stats:
In 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that approximately 610,000 people were homeless in America. Another report indicated that up to 3.5 MILLION people would experience some form of homelessness in any given year.
There are 32,000 homeless individuals in Florida. 8% of the nations homeless population resides HERE, and yet we have the most violence against homeless people. We have been deemed the most dangerous state for homeless people year after year. Our state legislature goes so far as to outlaw us from helping the less fortunate.
I want to help change this.
2 years ago if you'd asked me how I felt about homelessness I probably wouldn't have had much to say. Which isn't because I didn't care or empathize. I just wasn't educated, and I didn't understand.
I went to school on Main St in Hyannis, MA. I talked to homeless people every day, and I never truly saw their struggles. They didn't show them to me. I just saw them as peers. I was always willing to share a cigarette or my sandwich with them but I didn't really understand what homelessness was, or how close most of us are to it.
A little over a year ago I read an article on cracked.com, about how easy it is to become homeless, and what it entails. It really spoke to me, although I didn't do anything about it right away.
This year I put a lot of thought into what I'd like our Christmas traditions to be, and what kind of legacy I'd like to give to my children. I realized that I want to teach them about love, and about giving with no hope for a "return on investment". I wanted them to understand how lucky we are and also how much we have in common with those who aren't as lucky. So we made stockings for the local homeless people, and we brought the stockings to them. It was a small gesture but we all felt great afterwards.
Then, a few days ago, I recognized a homeless man outside of Firehouse, and I asked him to come inside and have lunch with me. He told me his story, he cried, and he thanked me, not just for the meal but for spending time with him and listening. Here is a snippet of what he told me:
He became homeless less than 6 months ago when his wife divorced him, for another man she had been cheating on him for 5 years of their 28 year marriage. He became unstable and had a mental breakdown. He selflessly checked himself into a mental health facility for a little under 3 months. When he got out he had defaulted on his mortgage, lost his car and a big chunk of his other assets. His job was not waiting for him. At this point he was heavily dependent on medication, considered himself unstable and violent and had no health insurance, however he did have a decent amount of savings. He went thru over 20 thousand dollars in the past 3 months. Staying in hotels, eating out constantly, paying for his medication, etc. Admittedly his decisions were not awesome, but at the time he was mostly worried about NOT murdering anyone. Despite the fact that he is now living on the street, without a job and coming off of almost all his medication he says that going to the hospital was still a good decision because he can live with nothing, but he could not live with blood on his hands. He was visibly anxious during our lunch, and I told him that I too suffer from anxiety and depression, that it's nothing to be ashamed of, and that I appreciated him sharing his story with me when it must have been very difficult. He once again teared up and told me that his 3 grown children didnt know he was in the hospital, or that he's homeless. That his parents, friends, ex wife etc are all clueless. That he hasn't been in touch with anyone. I gave him the change I had in my car and asked him to please call his family and atleast say merry christmas. I also gave him my "card" because it had my number on it and asked him to please call me if he needed to talk.
This brings me to my major point. The revelation I've had this year thru my own financial blunders and inexperience mistakes: It could happen to me. It could happen to you. It could happen to anyone.
Homelessness is not always the result of a lifetime of fucks ups. Sometime's it's just one or two mistakes that can leave you on the street. Sometimes, no mistakes are even made at all. So before you look down on someone and assume they have a drug or alcohol problem or that they just aren't willing to try just imagine the hundreds of ways circumstances could put YOU in their shoes.
I'm not saying I'm gonna make a huge difference in the homeless populace. I'm probably not. But I AM going to treat them with dignity and respect. I'm going to continue to have lunch with people I know need it, and I'm going to bring some dollar store necessities to the homeless camps when I can. I'm going to treat these people like they're my friends because any one of my friends could easily be in their position.