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Friday, January 29, 2010

So, who are the homeless around here anyway?

Yesterday, the communities of Central Oregon held a 24-hour homeless count.  They were trying to figure out how many homeless people live in our region, and who exactly those people are.  The homeless include: families, the elderly (much to the horror of most of us), veterans, the mentally ill, drug and alcohol abusers, runaways, ex-cons, and otherwise displaced persons.  There are lots of people in our communities who meet the same criteria as homeless people, they just still live in their own homes.

In this post, I am thinking about our pre-conceived notions regarding the homeless.  To me, they are just people without houses that are trying to live and survive the best way they can.  Some are good, some are bad.  What do you think about when the term "homeless person" is brought up?   I usually think of the following two groups, the sign people and the homeless families.  By the way, this isn't a lecture here and there are no right or wrong answers.  I am just trying to figure something out, and would love to read your comments and thoughts. 

There are these guys, the sign people....

Lets talk about them for a minute.  Is it easy to turn away from the sign people as you pass by them in your car?  Is it easy to judge and blame them because they are adults?  Do you think, "If I give them money, they will just spend it on booze, drugs and cigarettes."?  A lot of the people we pass by on the street corner will probably spend their money in that very way.  But then, so will a lot of people who drive by them in cars.  

What kind of reaction do you usually feel as you drive by the sign people? Do you feel grateful that it isn't you on that street corner?  Do you feel proud that you will never be in that situation, because you run your life way better than they ever did?  Do you give them money and food, or do you call them losers and flip them off?  

I carry bags of stuff in my car to give away to the sign people.  The bags contain food, toiletries, toilet paper, a scarf I made, a book, coffee, sterno and other useful things.  

On Tuesday, in Bend, I got out of my car and gave one of those bags to a woman with a sign.  As I got up closer, I was confused about if she was a man or a woman (she had a very strong 5 o'clock shadow) but was dressed like a woman.  Very odd looking up close, and she seemed mentally challenged or something.  Her head was egg shaped she wore mascara on her eyebrows.  She was happy to get her bag, and gave me a big smile and said thank you a couple of times.  I had the urge to hug her, but at the same time, I felt that if I got too close she might grab me around the neck and choke me out.  (Not my usual reaction to homeless women, so I withheld my hug.)  I don't know what is up with her, but I felt compassion about that on top of everything else, she had to be standing there with a sign.  The guys she was with were not asking for money, but for cans.  They were getting them too.  I thought that was a pretty smart idea, since they were located next to a store.  They were working.  I don't even know if these people were actually homeless.  Maybe they are just beggars.  God sees my heart, and if I feel like helping or being nice there is no need for me to be judge and jury for a sign person.  That alone gives me so much freedom to be kind.

There are the homeless families...


What about the homeless families?  How hard this must be.  Back in the 90's when I was working with homeless families in Eugene, these little kids touched my heart.  Some of them had parents who were into drugs and alcohol.  Some of them were with their mom who had to leave their abusive dad.   Most were living in their cars, tents and homeless shelters.  The kids are trying to go to school.  The parents were trying to work, find a home, take care of the kids, do laundry, etc.  It was a really hard life.  As long as the parents were good parents, I noticed that the kids were pretty resilient.  I felt really sorry for the kids with bad parents though.

Some kids traveled a long way with their parents to move to Eugene. The word was out that Eugene was a good place to go if you were homeless. That is true.  St. Vincent de Paul had done a great job of setting up a great system to help those without homes.  You could start out in church emergency night shelter; go into transitional housing; get help getting into a rental; and if you played your cards right, eventually buy a house.  This system was a model for the country, come to find out.  During the past 10 years, Bend has done a great job of getting homeless families organized. 

The news said it will take about a month to go through the results of yesterday's survey.  Then they will begin work on how to best serve the homeless in our communities.  I can see one glaring need already:  South County needs to set up a homeless shelter.  There are so many unemployed families here now who have recently lost their homes or will be losing them soon.  Responsible families, where the parents were working and now who cannot due to the lack of jobs.  These are our "new" homeless.  Let these families stay here, in their own communities, in their own schools, instead of having to move to Bend to get help.  

I will help.  How about you?

Link to: 
"Another Day in Paradise" 
by Phil Collins:

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