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Monday, May 15, 2017

Homelessness, an epidemic.

Fair warning, this is a reprint of an article the kind people at Street Speech published. More fair warning, if you are looking for my normal foolishness, you might want to take a pass, this is depressing stuff. If you are feeling a little too cheerful for a Monday, by all means, continue.

What happens when the system fails? How do you describe the worst possible outcome of the atrophy of a dream? It is easy to picture a catastrophic collapse, one final attempt as the circle fails to come around, a horrible vision where all of the moving parts slow before stopping completely. At least there is the almost romantic vision of a shared disaster. But, it doesn’t happen that way. It is a thousand small failures, the system sustains itself. But, it leaves parts behind, people who can’t find a fit. It leaves them homeless, living on the street, forgotten by almost everybody.

Of course, it is easy to overlook the failure when it is so third person, so distant. When you add a hint of mental illness, and possibly addiction all of the sudden it is almost predestined. Wash your hands, walk away, thinking there was nothing that could be done. However, there are no villains in this story. Only the unfortunate few who have suffered so much.

According to Greendoors.org (an organization striving to provide homes for those in need) 643,067 people are homeless in America on an average day. A horrifying number. Greater than the population of Wyoming. An epidemic that has swept across the country. It is not limited to metropolitan centers, rural areas, suburbs, all face the same crisis.

Breaking down the numbers, a bit further, Greendoors.org states 238,110 of these homeless people are in families. Children, without a home. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 2.5 million children are homeless every year. The most fragile component of our society, without a roof over their heads. Again, according to National Center on Family Homelessness, there are homeless children in every state, county, and city in our country.

Even if the people can enroll a child in school, no mean accomplishment, true education requires the building of a relationship between students and teachers. Students require a level of comfort with their classmates. A classroom requires a nurturing environment, a sense of trust, of continuity, long term relationships, only possible through stable family housing.

According to the Urban Institute family stress and instability can have deep and lasting impacts on children’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development. These children are being put through a meat grinder from which they may never recover. And if they do think of the scars left by nights of being cold, hungry, and afraid.

Personally, I have seen a small family, mother, father, son, gathering up their belongings, the chill of the morning causing their breath to steam white, as they shake the frost from their meager collection of blankets, and bags, packing up and moving along while they can still pretend it is a choice. Knowing full well that soon it will not be voluntary. And I thought, how can this happen? But, these people often have no choice. Recent studies indicate that nowhere in the US can a person working forty hours at a minimum wage job afford a single bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

In many cases, mental illness drags people into the tight grip of helpless despair. Greendoors.org estimates that 25% of homelessness is caused by this scourge. Living on the street is the only option for people with those demons. According to NationalHomeless.org mental illness denies people the ability to form lasting relationships, forces them to misinterpret guidance, and push away caregivers. Unable to care for themselves, or maintain a home they are left with only one option, the street. The street never turns anybody away.

It is an awful sight, on my daily strolls through downtown, watching a poor man digging cigarette butts out of public ashtrays. Smoking is bad, but this is worse. It is the only time I wished I hadn’t quit smoking, so I could give this poor man a cigarette.

The foundation of humanity is built on the love of fellow man, and the cracks and crumbling are obvious when you see these poor lost souls wandering alone in such terrible darkness in the glaring light of day. Even if these people were given homes they would not be able to master the basic skills needed to sustain even the most basic of homes without help through improved mental health care for the poor.

Domestic violence often drives victims to a life on the streets. According to the National Need to End Domestic Violence up to 57% of all homeless women report that domestic violence is the immediate cause of their homelessness. Moreover, 38% of all victims of domestic violence become homeless at some point in their life. Victims are forced to choose between the certain violence at home and the potential violence of the lonely life scrounging for change for on the sidewalks.

Evicted because of disturbances that left them battered and in no small way broken, they are left with no money, no home, and no hope. Going from bad to bad, life as a constant, an equation of agony with no solution.

Sometimes they are only children, late teens, early twenties. Sitting, legs crossed, a little sign laid across their knees plaintively asking for anything, any small donation. Sometimes you can see the bruises, sometimes you can’t, but you know they are there. Bruises that go beyond the motley, dark purple, green, and yellow blue. Bruises that will never heal, that you will never see, painful, permanent tattoos of betrayal.

I walk the streets, and I see. It is almost like walking through parallel dimensions on my lunch break. In one dimension are the people carrying purses, brief cases, carrying bags of hot carry out food, talking about a trip to Put-In-Bay, oil changes, the need for an effective method to combat crabgrass. All normal, routine, samples cut from the fabric of American life. On the B side are the lonely, the forgotten, carrying ratty back packs, wearing stocking caps, and jackets. There is something about sleeping on concrete, or asphalt, it drains the warmth from a person and never returns, not completely. When you look in their eyes you see the sorrow, the pain, suffering, the simple statement, “you could never imagine how tired I am.”

You can’t just walk away from a look like that. You carry it with you as you rush away to the safety of life. But you never really walk away at all. It goes with you. If you can’t take pity on these poor souls, these lost, lonely wraiths you have never really looked into their eyes at all.

Life goes on without slowing, but, there is hope, it will take everybody, our elected officials, our communities, our churches. It won’t be easy, but what choice do we have?