We don’t really have a homeless problem, do we?

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Great question.  One of many I hear often about my work with the homeless.  Other questions I hear often?

Aren’t all those people begging for money drug addicts?

Couldn’t they just get a job?

Why should I give my money to people too lazy to do for themselves?

I don’t see the homeless here like I do in Chicago, are there really that many?

The truth is, just like us, each individual experiencing homelessness is unique, with a unique situation that rendered them homeless.  Over the last year and a half that I have focused on developing relationships with the homeless, I have had the privilege of hearing lots of these stories. 

(names changed)

Gary was working at a local business when he became sick and they let him go.  He couldn’t find another job before he was evicted from his apartment.  With no family in the area, and none anywhere stable enough to travel to, he became homeless.  Some nights he is lucky enough to sleep overnight at a friend’s house, but most nights he stays under bridges or anywhere he can find with decent cover and privacy. 

Don was working in a traveling carnival when it came to the area.  He decided he liked our community and wanted to settle down.  He had made a couple friends and figured he could stay with them until he found a job.  With the carnival then in another part of the country, friendships gone sour, and no luck finding a job, he found himself taking the only shelter he could find: a chilly, unfinished basement in someone’s house.

Abe has been homeless off an on for over 10 years, since he experienced a major health crisis during which he was in a coma for a time and almost died.  His chaotic family was not in a position to help, and he has never managed to find and keep a job for any length of time since.  Sometimes he finds a friend to live with, sometimes someone lets him stay in an unheated garage, but many times he stays in a tent or on the ground in a wooded area.

Mike was a semi-driver with his own rig when he stopped at a local truck stop.  When he intervened with a man hitting a woman, he was charged with assault and jailed.  To pay for representation, he had to sell his truck: his livelihood.  When he was eventually found not-guilty, he was released with no truck to drive and an expired CDL, from a state across the county.  To renew, he’d have to travel to that state.  To get an IL license, he would have to find hundreds of dollars and pass our CDL test: no easy task.  He lived in a tunnel in Kankakee until one day he disappeared.  We pray he moved somewhere where he has been able to get back on his feet. 

Teri is a bit of a mystery.  She drinks too much and is very guarded.  She usually pals around town with a precious man who tries his best to look out for her.  At first I thought she was one we would never break through to, but today she comes to see us almost every week, greets us with hugs, and loves to joke around with us.  She often stays in abandoned places.  I don’t know her story, but I pray someday we get to hear it.

Yes, there are many homeless in our area.  No, most of them try to stay very out of sight.  No, many of them don’t use or drink excessively.  No, it is not easy to find a job.  My perfectly healthy, well dressed 17 year old can’t even get businesses to call him back for a job, much less to find a simple part-time job at a fast food chain.  And homeless individuals have no address to list in online job applications, no nice clothes to wear to an interview, and no way to shower before work.  Securing the cheapest of apartments cost often two months rent and a security deposit. 

Being homeless is like falling into a deep pit with almost no way out. 

Let’s stop standing at the edge of it and asking why they don’t get out.

Let’s come together to help them out.

In the meantime, let’s do everything we can to make them more comfortable, and remind them that as fellow human beings, we care. 

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