The man in the picture above? He is the face of homelessness. And I know him. But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain. During the month of December, my Northwest Arkansas Blogger group (NWARKcares) is focusing on the issue of homelessness. The goal of our group is to bring awareness to a different cause each month. September was literacy. Literacy was easy for me. I love books and reading and have my own Little Free Library in the front yard. October and November? I didn’t do so well pushing the topics of domestic violence and women in politics/leadership roles. No particular reason, they are both worthy, important topics, I was busy with other things. Excuses, excuses. And now December is homelessness. What better time than the holiday season to talk about the homeless? December is the time when people gather in their homes with family and friends. The weather outside is frightful and shelter is needed more than ever.
Homelessness makes me uncomfortable, sad, angry. The idea that in our country, a country of luxury, excess, and wastefulness, people are without basic necessities. Seriously, I can’t stand the thought of a homeless animal. The sweet cat that keeps showing up on my porch? I’m one bowl of cat food away from adopting him.
Throughout America, there are many people one paycheck, one illness, one small setback away from being homeless. According to 7 Hills Center in Fayetteville, people become homeless in response to a variety of circumstances including home fire, loss of employment, change in family status, and health problems.
In America, on a single night in January 2013, there were 610,042 people experiencing homelessness in the United States, including 394,698 people who were homeless in sheltered locations and 215,344 people who were living in unsheltered locations. 23% were children. (The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress)
It’s so easy for me to sit in my warm, comfortable house and push the idea from my mind. That’s why #NWARKcares is important. This group forces me to think about the unthinkable.
As a self-proclaimed homebody, home is vital to me. Home is my refuge, the place I recharge, part of my life force. Being homeless is one of the worst things I can imagine. Not that I can truly imagine it.
Now, back to the man in the picture. He’s been homeless for years. He lives in Dallas, in my former neighborhood. (I’ll simply refer to him as “J” for privacy reasons.) My neighbor has allowed J to live in his garage for years. And while he has a roof over his head, the garage has no heat, no air-conditioning, no running water. This isn’t a furnished garage, or a garage apartment. It’s a garage with a rollup door that’s filled with garage stuff.
Through the years, I talked with J nearly every day when I walked the dogs. Often he was the first person I saw in the morning (my husband travels a lot).
J loves to read. Westerns are his favorite, and he reads the Dallas Morning News cover-to-cover every day at the local donut shop. He grew up in Oklahoma. His childhood sounded normal with a brother and summer lake trips with family. He had loving grandparents. Although I never learned exactly where his life derailed, I know alcohol played a significant role in his problems. Today, he survives on a small monthly government check and sends a portion each month to his two sons who are both in Texas prisons for separate murder convictions.
This man is only one story. One face. One among hundreds of thousands.
So how can we regular folks make a difference? Volunteer your time and donate to local food banks. Drop whatever you can spare in the Salvation Army red kettle outside your grocery store. Contact area homeless shelters and help. Share this post. Write your own.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
[tweetthis]The face of homelessness. One face among thousands. @Ntl_Homeless @UnitedWayNWA @SalvationArmyUSA #NWArkCares [/tweetthis]
Salvation Army, NYC, Feliz Navidad