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Homelessness Changed My Life Forever
Do you cringe when you see the homeless?
I’m sure I’m not alone. When I saw an unwashed, unkempt, homeless person with a cardboard sign on the side of the road, I cringed. I thought, like most people, that they were begging for money to spend on crack, drugs or alcohol. I tried not to make eye contact and to get through the intersection as fast as possible. These are the invisible people. Most folks just pass by them without ever noticing that they are even human. I just can’t do that anymore.
Circumstances Beyond Our Control
A few years ago my perspective was changed forever. Through a series of events beyond our control, my husband and I found ourselves homeless. How could such a thing happen you may ask? First my husband worked for a large mega church with several pastors and employees. It isn’t the fault of the church that the economy got bad and people weren’t giving as they used to. Hard decisions had to be made and several people were let go, including my husband. The part I take issue with is, that because the church is a non-profit organization, they do not have to pay into social security or retirement funds and if the employees do not do that themselves… well, you can find yourself as we did, without any savings or retirement.
For the next year we scraped by on what little I earned until, my employers also feeling the pinch, cut my hours and eventually let me go as well. To make matters worse, I needed a couple of operations that kept me from working for several months. I will always be grateful that my husband was home to help me during that time. However the loss of income was devastating.
No More Jobs
Many of my Republican friends said there were plenty of jobs out there if you really want to work. However that isn’t as true as they think. Many available jobs pay the minimum and give very few hours per week (like the fast food places). Most only hire part-time so that they don’t have to pay any benefits. On top of that is our age. My husband and I were in our 50’s at the time, and although no one would admit the reason for rejection was age, we both knew that they didn’t want to hire anyone that close to retirement.
We lost it all.
Amid crushing debt, we lost our home, and sold everything we could possibly part with. That included the furniture, the refrigerator, my beloved books, my husband’s movie/DVD collection, one of our cars, and much of my art equipment. The problems got worse because we had nowhere to move to. All the apartments we looked into would not have a unit free for months. We put what was left into storage and waited.
Friends took us in.
Sure, we had friends and some of them allowed us to crash at their home, on their couch, etc. for a while. I love my friends and want to keep their friendship. We are well aware that company is like fish… after three days it becomes odious and unwelcome. Therefore we spread ourselves out so that no one was “putting up with us” for more than a few days at a time.
Even King David was homeless.
There is a stigma to homelessness. You feel like an utter failure. You don’t want to make eye contact with anyone in case it is written all over your face. You feel humiliated and hopeless. It doesn’t matter if you have nothing but the clothes on your back or a storage room full of stuff, with no place of your own to lay your head you feel lower than low. It is at times like that when you start to think crazy things, like who cares and might as well lie down and die. It is pretty hard not to fall into a depression when circumstances all seem against you. I remembered that the great and mighty friend of God, King David was homeless at one point, living in caves and relying on the handouts of friends and strangers. (1 Samuel 22:1-5)
More than one way to become homeless.
It was at that point that I began to look around. I saw the homeless on the side of the road like I had never seen them before. There was no difference between them and me. We were not spending our money on drugs or alcohol. We were not there because we wanted to be on the street. We didn’t have a mental problem or unsocial issues. Yet we were one friend away from a cardboard box under a bridge. I saw a huge growth in the cardboard village in my town. There were more homeless there than I can ever remember seeing before. Many were families with children. I remember thinking that homeless people were just Wine-os and men, but now I saw people of all ages. There were even some teenagers wandering around, searching dumpsters for food. Some have runaway from abuse and neglect. Some just want to get by without having to give up their human dignity.
Statistics say that homelessness in the U.S. is decreasing from 2013 to present but I sure don’t see that in my area. I do know that there have been many measures and agencies who have stepped up to give people on the street a place to sleep, but I’m not sure that really solves the problem. The ever-increasing cost of housing is outrageous for the elderly and disabled to be able to bear.
No one wants to live in a box.
Sure there are some people out there who are homeless because they have a substance abuse problem and their families could not put up with it any longer. There are a few with social issues, but really no one WANTS to be homeless. Mostly we want to be free from debt and crushing obligation.
What do you think when you see a homeless person?
Sure there are organizations and programs out there that are trying to help the situation. One such program helps people get off the street by paying for a short-term motel accommodation. This is made for people who just need a little more time to get into an affordable apartment. In our case we actually had an apartment complex we applied for and were waiting for one to open up. Another program called “Modest Needs” helps people who are just experiencing a terrible financial blow or an unexpected bill like a power bill and need just enough to get back on their feet. They turned us down because we had too many bills that had already gotten beyond our means. In some towns there are church sponsored programs that help house homeless people temporarily and there is a state sponsored program that does the same. In most cases the paperwork and the interview process is so overwhelming and embarrassing, that it is completely understandable that many people would rather not bother. We got some help from our church but felt so humiliated that we could bring ourselves to return to that church. Another church simply gave us a workbook and video DVD on “How to Manage Your Money.” Not really helpful.
We became self-employed.
I believe everything happens for a reason and I trust in God to protect us. Eventually the apartment we could afford opened up for us. My husband began to work on his own videography business that he had always wanted to start. I began creating and working on my illustrations for children’s books and children’s magazines. We are able to get by with what we are making even though we don’t have a lot of extra to go party with. Still we are very happy.
What does it cost to keep a bottle of water for the homeless?
Since then, I cannot pass up anyone on the side of the road with a cardboard sign. If I have a few dollars, I pass it him/her. If not I pass them water or trail mix I have with me in the car because, you cannot imagine how hard it is to get clean water on the street. It makes me so incensed when I hear someone talking ugly about a homeless woman or man who just wants enough to buy food for the day. Many people are sure that they are thieves or liars when in truth they are just like anyone else, but down on luck or at the end of a rope. If it were you, wouldn’t you want someone to throw a lifeline? If it were your son or daughter, wouldn’t you want someone who could spare a few dollars to have some pity? How much would it cost you to just share a sandwich and bottle of water?
Judging on appearances.
We have become a society that judges on appearances only, without ever knowing the whole story. It is so much easier to donate to a charitable society that help poor people overseas than to help the homeless lady at the end of the street. When will we ever learn to look at people as people instead of rubbish? People are worth the effort to save and help. Sometimes just a little kindness goes a long way.
But for the grace of God.
The world can be a mean and scary place. If we just helped whenever we could, one person at a time, change could be possible. It is time we stopped spending all our energies fighting for abused animals and spend at least a little to ease the abused people in our communities. Don’t judge the unwashed bearded fellow on your street corner too harshly. But for the Grace of God, that could be you.