Our first question comes from Lynda. Lynda said, “My brother-in-law was homeless for more than 10 years and his story may have tainted my mind about homelessness. He never tried to get out of it, so he was the stereotypical homeless person who people think don’t do anything to try to better their life. My question relates to the approximate number of people who are homeless who are actually trying to do something to get out of it. When you were homeless, were you in despair and got to the point that you felt there was no way out of it? How did you finally get lifted out?”
It’s hard to say an approximate number of people that are trying to get out of homelessness. Nobody wants to be homeless. If they had the choice everybody would like to have a safe shelter of their own. Unfortunately, some of the services available don’t actually provide safe shelter. Many of the homeless shelters are not seen as a safe place to sleep and stay. Usually by the time you become homeless, you have already reached a point of despair. And then that despair gets even greater as you’re living homeless. So that is a big part of why it seems that people that are homeless aren’t trying to do anything to get out of it. They feel like this is the way life is, there is nothing I can do about it if there was I would have already done it. I wouldn’t be in this situation if there was something I could do. That is the mindset that often affects people that are living homeless. There is also issues with mental illness or addiction that make despair even worse. They feel that they can’t cope with a normal household. There are services out there. There is Salvation Army. There are different programs, many of them just aren’t enough and there is not enough room. We have a large homeless problem in our country. There are not enough beds in temporary shelters to house them all. Many places are starting a housing first initiative. With housing first, they provide free housing from the beginning and then offer the other services. This has shown to be much more effective. Trying to offer services to someone who is still living on the streets is difficult to follow up. It’s difficult to give consistent service when they don’t know if someone will come back. Many people can’t even get a job without an address. We need more of the housing first programs to get these people to where they’re not feeling that despair. They are feeling that they can get the rest they need. They can get the resources they need, that they aren’t getting while living on the streets. For my family, the way we finally got out of it was, my parents were arrested. It wasn’t through any effort on our own. It was because we got caught. Since I was a kid at the time, it was child neglect to have me living on the streets and not in school. So my parents were arrested. I was placed in the custody of the state and lived with my grandparents. It took my mom years to get custody of me back. It wasn’t anything that we did on our own. It was the way the circumstances happened. I was taken out of that situation and it took my mom awhile to get everything in order so that she could provide for me.
Another question we have comes from Jeanie. Jeanie asks, “What would have helped you the most when you were homeless?”
For me, the thing that stood out the most as a kid living homeless was the way people treated us. When people were rude to us, or ignored us, or were disrespectful, that’s what I still remember. There were people who tried to give us food but did it in a disrespectful way. I was not interested in what they were trying to give us because of the way they were treating us. So #1, be kind. Treat people with respect, that is the thing you are missing the most when you are living homeless. They are already living a hard life, they don’t need somebody to remind them of that or put them down for it. They know it’s hard, they are the ones living it. Aside from that, one of my favorite things was if we were able to get a motel room for the night. If we got a little extra money, either from digging through dumpsters, begging, or even stealing we got a motel room for the night. That meant sleeping in a bed, taking a bath, watching TV, these are simple “luxuries” that we all take for granted. When you are homeless the basic things that you are missing make a big difference in getting a restful night’s sleep. Having a lock on the door, being able to know that you and your belongings are safe and secure. So aside from people just treating us right, it was having a safe place to sleep. Being able to get a motel room, really helped us. But if you don’t have money, if you don’t have resources to offer anybody, just be kind. Smile at them, talk to them, spend a moment with them. That can completely change someone’s day.
A third question I have comes from Daniel. Daniels asked, “What clear paths are there out of homelessness? Attitude? Faith? Friendship? Resources?”
That’s a hard question to answer because there many programs available. The one that I’ve heard the most positive reviews from and that I’ve seen people go through well is Salvation Army. Salvation Army has great resources and programs. Whether you are homeless by circumstance or if it’s because of addiction or mental illness, they have many services available. I have known many people who have gone through the programs that Salvation Army offers with great success. In fact, they are still living productive lives today.
For me and my mom, our faith played a huge role in turning our lives around. Once we got out of the streets, we got connected to the church that my grandparents went to. My church had a chemical dependency recovery program. That made a huge difference in my mom’s life. She tried going to NA, AA, all these different recovery programs and they just didn’t cut it for her. In fact, they made it harder because she met more drug connections in those programs. When she went to the program that the church offered, there was such a faith-based foundation that her strength in God that got her through it. Faith is a big part of it. That ties back to Jeanie’s question. For someone to have faith in God, they have to see that they can trust other people. That goes back to be kind to people, be thoughtful, say “hello”, look someone in the eye, ask them their name. You wouldn’t believe how long it’s been since some of those people have had somebody ask them their name. Make them feel like a person, not ignored, not invisible.
I recommend that you watch the movie recently released by Richard Geer called Time Out Of Mind. Richard plays a homeless man in NYC. He shows the challenges that the homeless go through. It’s a very well done movie.
I did mention my book. I recently finished writing my book that is a memoir about my experiences of living homeless as a child. Sharing what those experiences were like through the eyes of a child. You may hear stories from an adult and the adult may be responsible for the reason they became homeless. But as a child, I had no part in why we became homeless. I wasn’t tainted by life. It’s a very innocent look at what homelessness is like through my eyes as a 9-year-old child. The title of my book is A Heart Without A Home. It is available for pre-order on Amazon.
If you have any questions about homelessness, please write to subscribe [at] StreetStoriesPodcast [dot] com. Let me know what your questions are, I would love to answer them on the show. If you have been homeless or you know someone who has, and would like to be interviewed on this podcast, please email me as well. I would love to share your story.