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Homelessness is Not what you think it is.

Updated on November 1, 2012
The traditional image
The traditional image
As likely as any possibility today.
As likely as any possibility today.

They are just like you and me.

The old image of homelessness is on where a hobo is sleeping on the street with a shopping cart full of dirty clothes and a pervasive smell that is so overpowering that passersby cannot get away fast enough. The other image is the ubiquitous panhandlers on every street corner today. I learned about a third version more than a decade ago when working in Berkeley, CA. I lived in Oakland, CA and saw the above constantly. It wasn't much different from what I was accustomed to seeing in New York City from whence I had come originally. The difference in Berkeley was that the homeless were all school-age children. They were sitting on city sidewalks with textbooks in their laps. It was a truly bizarre sight. Why would a homeless child care about finishing their homework? Who would be checking it? I asked a co-worker and she was kind enough to tell me the truth. They were all runaways from bad homes. However, if they were not on that sidewalk, but inside a store instead, you would never be able to tell they were homeless. They did not smell and spoke as anyone that age would. One hears about these things but until one encounters it on such a size, we really don't believe it. Well that was then.

Today, with a staggering unemployment rate that is dropping at a glacial pace, we now have another form of homeless. They are middle class wage earners who have lost their jobs due to downsizing and are too expensive to be rehired. When they run out of funds, they are walking experts in their field with no place to practice their craft. You cannot tell who they are as they look just like normal working adults with regular homes. However, they have neither of those and are surviving day to day and week to week. They access resources to bathe and earn what they can where they can and speak as if nothing is wrong. Why would they do anything different?


Therefore, just as engaging someone from a different culture requires you to step out of your box to learn something new, recognize that who you are talking to may not be in the same status you think they are yet are just as educated as you assume. Ain't that a kick in the head.

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    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 5 years ago from Corona, California.

      That's right, any one of us, no matter what your background, could end up in the same position. Greg

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      For some, like runaways, being on the streets , although dangerous, means freedom from abuses at home. There are also those who have lost most everything to pay medical expenses and can't earn enough to get out of debt. They may generate enough money to live in a public storage room or to have a YMCA membership for shower/bathroom facilities. Others may live in their cars and clean up in the laundromat and the restroom there. As much as we say, "get a job" most employers aren't interested in a person w/ no address/phone. Work is usually transient and is often some form of manual labor. I try to have compassion because each of us never knows what the future holds.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 5 years ago from Corona, California.

      I just recently started back to work after being retired for 2-1/2 years. I pass this help center everyday and there are always homeless on the streets. This has inspired me to write an article about homeless. Just seeing some of them makes me wonder , "how did these people come to be in this situation?" I think about it and there are so many reasons possible for these unfortunate. I would like to actually interview some of them, but I really don't know how to approach them without feeling I am invading thier personal feelings. I do like your hub, and runnaways is one reason that hadn't crossed my mind yet. Greg