As we celebrate today I can’t help thinking about the numerous homeless people we encountered during our recent road trip. They were evident in every state, but much more prevalent once we entered California. Most were just walking the streets, but a few were aggressive enough to ask us for change. They made the rounds of the restaurants and hotels. One wandered through a store parking lot shouting obscenities. Some were intimidating, but most were just pathetic.
One morning we watched the local news and learned that Los Angeles County has an estimated 47,000 homeless people. 28,000 live in the city- in tents, shanties, and vehicles. There has been a major increase in the number of women living on the streets, and of course there is a shortage of shelters for them. According to recent statistics about 35% of the U. S. homeless are families with children, and 25% are veterans. The states with the highest number of homeless residents are Hawaii, New York, and California.
Gary and I found ourselves asking why there are so many people living on the streets. The answers are complicated and of course some of the people we see pushing carts or riding bicycles have mental problems and addictions and disabilities that prevent them from functioning normally. But many people are homeless because they were living so close to true poverty that one crisis- a broken down vehicle, a health emergency, a layoff, a divorce, or an accident- sent them over the edge. Some are far away from other family members. Many have friends living in the same conditions, so they are of little help. And without enough emergency shelters they had nowhere else to go. Once a person ends up on the street it can be nearly impossible to get back to a normal life. According to Home Aid, a non-profit housing provider:
“The great challenge for the newly homeless is to figure out how to return to their normal lives. Organizations that build emergency shelters and transitional housing typically work with a larger number of service providers around the country whose mission is to provide the services, such as job training, social skills training, and financial training, that enable these people to regain employment and return to mainstream lives. The progression for these recently homeless is to first be housed in transitional residences where they can learn these skills, to graduate to assisted living in affordable housing while they build up economic reserves and rebuild their employment resume, and then to graduate to full, market rate housing.”
I don’t know how many homeless people are living in our area, but I know I’ve seen a few wandering the streets. I admit to not giving them much thought until now. I’m not sure what I can do to help the problem, but knowledge leads to greater understanding, so I begin with that. I know there are some food pantries in our county that welcome donations.
As we give thanks for our freedom today, perhaps we can say a pray for those less fortunate and ask some serious questions about what is going on in our own town. If each of us helps just a little we might make a big difference.