Things I Have Learned by Serving the Homeless
This issue isn't going away. I hope everyone who reads this abbreviated version will take action to help in some way.
- •The problem is more complex than anyone thinks.A huge percentage boils down to mental illness. Plain & simple. In their teens many began self-medicating for depression, ADHD and other undiagnosed disorders. They cut ties with families that were ill equipped to deal with their substance abuse, much less mental disorders.
- •It can happen to you. Yes, you.Your landlord can evict you without cause in a tight housing market. You end up in a strange city with no friends, living in your car. You're then one of the "working homeless." Pulling together deposit, first & last months rent is a struggle for many. Or you have a serious illness or accident, end up hospitalized, can't pay the rent. Out you go and walk out of the hospital to the street.
- •Drugs & Alcohol may have been the start of the cycle but now it just dulls the pain of the reality.Being invisible is demoralizing, never being able to sit down is exhausting. To keep up the cycle the high exists solely to get from day to day. Bad behavior, begging, stealing, turning tricks exist solely to numb the reality of this life.
- •Housing First works.Give someone a safe place to lock themselves in, the bad guys out. Get them mental health care they need. They want to get clean & sober, they want to work. Now, with an address they can look for work, learn to function again. No longer an ER "frequent flyer" or jail "revolver" the savings to taxpayers is enormous.
- •Most of them have led interesting lives.Just ask. They're more than happy to chat for a while. Just listen for a while, that's all they need from you. There are plenty of social services for meals, & clothes. Veterans, ex-cops, school-teacher, crab fishermen, electrician, long-tail trucker, lots of stories. They'll tell you how they got injured, lost a job, left an abusive husband, whatever put them onto the streets. And they're still here.
- •The signs by the roadsides are usually bullshit.Generally it's the druggie looking for a fix sitting at the freeway off ramp. To support their habit in that way, you may be responsible for their OD. Give generously to a reputable agency that helps feed and shelter men, women & especially families. Then drive by those guys guilt free.
- •Kids are the saddest victims of homelessness.Living in a car or tent, the school bus picks them up under the freeway in the morning. Kids are singled out at school because they only have a few clothes to wear. Agencies that support homeless families really need donations now.
- •There is a shortage of women's shelters.Other than battered women's shelters and family shelters, there are few shelters in.most cities for single women. They are harassed by men waiting in line at co ed shelters and often don't feel safe in them. They would rather live alone in a tent outside, extremely vulnerable, than to stay in co ed housing. Many of them have been sexually assaulted in their lives and distrust men.
- •Everyone can do something.Volunteer at a soup kitchen once or twice a month. Collect hotel soaps & shampoos for shelters to distribute. Pass a homeless person regularly? Stop and ask their name, what's their story, what can you bring them? Encourage your city, county, state to adopt a "HOUSING FIRST" plan to end chronic homelessness.