#OurWorld: Homeless in Winter
There are a lot of days now where I’m uncertain about the future of our world. It feels like the world is one feather away from collapsing upon itself sometimes. Tensions are rising between nations. It looks like there are foreign countries strengthening relationships. The U.S. isn’t everyone’s best friend. Our people are desperate.
I see the best of people and the worst of people, almost side by side. Today I read a thread on Facebook where someone in my community was looking to pay for someone to take her mother grocery shopping because she’s not able to drive, and almost thirty people offered to do it for free. I’ve seen a lot of similar posts for aging folks in our community who need help with shoveling lately, too.
And then, today in my town of residence, there was a news story about someone who stole Christmas presents from underneath a Christmas tree while the family was at the neighbor’s house.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. The economic situation seems precarious. Sometimes it feels as if any day will herald a horrific crash reminiscent of the housing crisis in 2008. I wonder if I’m ready for it when it comes. If the people I know are. I worry for my friends, family, and neighbors. I give a lot of myself to complete strangers through what I do for work. I take my responsibility very seriously.
Are we going to make it? Because what if we don’t? What if we lose everything?
Addressing the homeless problem has always been tough for me. I’d never seen homeless people when I was growing up. They were always here…but in places I never saw growing up because I never went to those areas. It was harder when I moved to the city. They’re much harder to ignore there. I see them with their signs at intersections. They ask me for change. When I first started to encounter struggling humans, I was too poor myself to help them.
I hate saying No. It was awkward for me to decline, but back then, I pretty much had to.
When I got to Pittsburgh (I lived there for a few years), I could help a little more. I gave a few dollars here and there for bus fare and such. It was also in Pittsburgh that I started to hear stories about how people made profits off pretending to be homeless, or how they’d just take your money to buy drugs and alcohol.
This upset me. That anyone would pretend they were poor so people would give them free money disgusted me. To prey on charity, while making those that truly need help look like greedy leeches? That’s awful. And I didn’t want to be part of the problem by giving people money to fall victim to their addictions either.
I was torn. After all, I still wanted to help.
I made the decision to offer things instead, rather than money. And whatever I’ve done for those in need has been geared this way ever since. Sometimes, too, I sit and talk with people a bit. I’m terrified, of course…I was raised to be paranoid about my health and safety, though sometimes I think this is wrong…but I’ve learned that a lot of people just need someone to listen. I can definitely do that.
But you know…even then…
I have a friend who jokes that I live “North of The Wall” (reference A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin). It gets bitterly cold up here. Temperatures are already falling to subzero numbers. I–HATE–being cold.
I could not imagine having to survive out there. I don’t care what lands a person on the street in the first place. The fact that anyone might be stuck out there in this frigid, barren wasteland frightens me a bit. Dying of exposure is a very real possibility.
I’m proud of my community, for stepping up. I’ve had the privilege to be involved with a lot of giving efforts, especially around the holidays. The people up here are pretty fantastic, all things considered. Seeing thirty people offer to take an old lady to the grocery store or help a different old lady keep her driveway clear or shovel her roof gives me a little hope. One of the people I play Pokemon Go with gathered up a bunch of winter coats, hates, gloves, scarves, etc. to give away downtown. She even made up a batch of chili to go with it. There are charity drives for blankets and coats and food.
Even in my small community, there are more than ninety people living on the street. That number shocked me. We’re not perfect, even here. We still can’t help our most vulnerable. I know more people than I thought I did that spent at least some time without a bed of their own.
I feel like this problem is one people like to ignore. It’s uncomfortable. It’s there, in front of us. It’s personal. It forces us to examine the contents of our soul, compare Haves and Have Nots. Makes us feel a little guilty for not suffering. To make assumptions about whether or not someone deserves a little help. Yeah. It’s a human thing. We aren’t perfect beings.
Christmas is a season of giving. For most people, that means presents. Gift giving and gift receiving. It’s also an important season for charity. Please don’t forget about our less fortunate. For a lot of people, it isn’t about the presents. It might not even be about food. Some people are just trying not to freeze to death.
Check out our #OurWorld category on Tuesdays to tune into some of the causes we think are important to raise awareness.