As a kid growing up in Dallas, I remember having a pretty distinct mental picture of what homeless people looked like, although I'm sure that some of what formed this image came from movies and TV. Included in my own perception were the following traits:
- Dirty clothes and hair
- Unkempt appearance
- Sunbaked skin
- Possibly alcoholic
As a grown man, I know that there are many homeless people who don't even meet ONE of the criteria above. As a result of a weak economy, the Robo-signing scandal of the late 2000's (which resulted in tons of erroneous and/or fraudulent foreclosures), and other variables that are too numerous to detail here, many of the "homeless" population in our country look just like you and me. This scandal caused many thousands of honest, hardworking people to lose their homes unjustly. In fact, you may have a co-worker or someone sitting next to you at church who is technically homeless.
Take a minute to consider the term by itself, without any preconceived baggage attached: homeless. In essence, this just means "without a home". Depending on where you live, you may know someone who is living with family or friends to try to get back on their feet. This, too, is homelessness, although they are in better shape than those who are living on the streets or under bridges, of course.
As winter approaches and the Christmas spirit begins to bring to mind the faith, family, and friends that we cherish, give some thought to how you can make a difference. As a real estate broker, I see many, many vacant homes through the course of an average month. Sometimes, these are the result of foreclosure proceedings. Other times, people were forced to leave to pursue work elsewhere. With the bank-owned properties, I wish there were a way to use some of these places to house homeless families temporarily. But I digress...
My wife and I assist a number of needy and homeless families in the Austin area. One tragic flaw we've noticed is the fact that the system (at least locally) isn't set up to provide housing for intact homeless families. If you are a single woman with children, or a single man, you can probably find a shelter, but if you want to stay together, it's much tougher. The system separates men from women and children, so homeless families must choose between staying together or staying off the streets.
Give some thought to these "invisible" people who are all around us. Yes, there are chronic homeless individuals, some of whom may actually prefer living on the street. However, having worked with several homeless families, one of whom lives with us currently (yes, really), this is not as prevalent as you probably think. In fact, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, fewer than 16% are chronically homeless, while 239,403 people in families are homeless on any given night.
If you've read this far, you're probably wondering how you can help (or why I am rambling). Here are some things to consider:
- Rather than simply assuming that every person on the street corner with a sign is a lazy bum or planning to use the money for drugs or alcohol, consider talking to them for 5 minutes to hear their story. You may be surprised at what you hear. I have done this several times, including twice this year. My wife did this back in late July and you can read the story here along with what we're trying to accomplish for our friends: http://actvra.in/MTQ
- Consider volunteering/serving at a homeless shelter or local food kitchen, even if it's only during the holidays. This can seem daunting if you are unaccustomed to being around true poverty, but it will also put your own life in perspective very quickly. When I was first faced with real need, I realized that I didn't have anything to complain about with my own finances, health, etc. There are typically opportunities every week to do good in your local community.
- Give when you can, using your discernment.
In my own experience, few things are more rewarding than helping others who need it. Often, it's just a matter of noticing when someone needs help and not ignoring the opportunity.
If you're interested in hearing more about my own experiences with needy families, I would be happy to share with you. I promise that helping those who are considered "the least of us" can be hugely rewarding.
Thanks for reading!
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons via FOTFUser
If you're looking for a home in the Austin area, you can also visit my primary website at www.austintexashomes.com. Thanks!