Homeless People Need ID

Also published on The Huffington Post 

Homeless people need identification documentation for the same reasons that housed people need ID: to prove who they are, to become eligible for services and for their own self-esteem.

However, for homeless people, having personal IDs is truly a matter of survival. All government assistance programs require identification documentation as the follow examples show.

    • Without ID, homeless people cannot get food stamps, so they may not have money to buy food.
    • Nor can they get general relief (welfare) to pay for lodging, for example, without proving who they are.
    • Senior homeless people need ID to get Social Security benefits.
    • Homeless people with physical or mental disabilities which prevent them from working can only rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they have ID.
  • If homeless people have worked 5 years out of the last 10 and are unable to work because of a disability, they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with ID.

My previous article, “The Trifecta of Identification,” set forth the numerous steps that it takes anyone to get ID. For a person without a home or resources, each step can be a major hurdle to getting identification.
But how do homeless people feel about having or not having ID? I asked a number of homeless youth and adults this question. I am grateful to each person for his/her response.

Lily, 27 years old:
“I have no ID of any kind because my stuff was stolen. I had my California ID stolen downtown. Without ID, it’s kinda hard. I couldn’t get a hotel room last night because I had no ID. Someone else did it. But, I was bummed. It wasn’t good. I’d like to get an ID, but I don’t have the money.”

T.J., 19 years old: “ID is pretty important. You need it for most things.

“I have all my IDs — birth certificate, social security card and photo ID. I feel better having ID because I don’t get a ticket for not having ID. I can buy cigarettes and get a hotel room.”

Wayne M. F. Robbins, Jr., 21 years old: “Personally, I think ID is a separation of who I am. Most people don’t ask, ‘Who are you?’ They ask for your ID.”

“I feel like a slave. My parents gave me that name, but if my ID is not current or if it’s broken, you can get in trouble, or fined. My ID is crinkled at the corners, so I have to buy another one. How much is an ID? $35?”

“IDs and social security cards aggravate me. I don’t feel that I should be tied down to 9 digits…”

Erin Kuklis, 22 years old: “I have no ID. I think ID is a waste of time and they have too much info on them. I’m from Alaska. I came here in August. ”

“One of my military cards, driver’s license and social security card — my whole purse with all my IDs is gone. My ID was stolen. My bank account was wiped out. There are three other people pretending to me. Those people have my parents’ address so they know where my parents live. There’s way too much info on IDs.”

“I can’t get a California ID because I have nothing showing who I am. When they [DMV] look me up, they don’t believe it’s me…”
Over the past six and a half months, our Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) helped the following homeless individuals complete the steps necessary to obtain ID. I thank each of them for their comments.
Logan, 49 years old: “No ID means you’re not even ‘Mr. Nobody.’ You can’t get work. You can’t cash your check. The police don’t like the idea [that you have no ID]. You have to eat out of the dumpsters. You have to beg for food.”

“A closed mouth don’t get fed. I asked the manager, ‘If I pick up all the trash in the parking lot, can you throw me something to eat?’ A few times they say, ‘No,’ but at some point they say, ‘Yes.'”

“Now [that I have ID,] I feel excellent … I have options now. I couldn’t get my medication without ID.”

“Having ID makes me feel really good. If I work, I can cash a check. If I get stopped by the cops, it’s valid information.”

John, 59 years old: “Before I had ID, I couldn’t do anything. After I got ID, I could do things … go to stores, all that.”

Nameless, 48 years old: “[Before CJSC got my birth certificate and replaced my social security card and Medi-Cal card,] I only had my California photo ID. I wasn’t worried about ID then. I didn’t really think about it until I went to a doctor’s appointment and they needed more ID.”

“Now that I’ve got all of my ID, I’m worried about hanging on to it. Hopefully, I can hang on to it. That’s my biggest concern. I’m worried I could lose my ID.”

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The Trifecta of Identification

Also published on The Huffington Post

When a homeless person has a certified copy of his/her birth certificate, a state-issued photo identification card (or driver’s license) and an original social security card, he/she possesses “The Trifecta of Identification.” Having possession of these three forms of ID is often the threshold issue for a homeless person to access many services. In order to receive needed identification documentation, a homeless person may have to overcome numerous hurdles.

Throughout the United States, government entities often provide direct services and/or fund services for unhoused people. However, access to these services generally requires the production of one or more personal identification documents on the part of the homeless person.

For example, the County of San Diego, CA, provides County Medical Services (CMS) for uninsured, low-income individuals who have immediate or long-term medical needs. In order to qualify for CMS, an individual must have identification documents: a certified copy of his/her birth certificate, a California photo identification card (or driver’s license) and a social security card. In addition, a divorce decree or death certificate of a spouse is required, if applicable.

Unfortunately, many homeless people do not have any form of identification. Why? A homeless person’s ID may be lost in the disruptive process of losing his/her home and many of his or her possessions. Further, without shelter, a homeless person may lose his/her ID because he/she does not have a consistently secure place to keep identification documentation. Finally, without shelter, a person is often exposed to inclement weather and may be vulnerable to acts of theft and violence through which his/her ID is lost.

While state requirements may differ, the steps in the State of California for getting identification documentation can present a host of hurdles for a homeless person, as can be seen as follows.

A. Certified Copy of a California Birth Certificate

To get a certified copy of a California birth certificate, a person needs to
1) Determine whether he/she is authorized to obtain a certified copy or only an informational copy
For a full listing of authorized individuals, seehttp://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/birthdeathmar/Documents/Certified-Copies-Birth-and-Death-PAMPHLET-(11-10)-MERGED.pdf

2) Download from a computer, or get, the California Department of Public Health Pamphlet, How To Obtain Certified Copies Of Birth And Death Records
Available at the immediately above referenced website.

3) Download, or get, the Application for Certified Copy of Birth Record

4) Sign and have notarized the Sworn Statement, attached to the application, which contains the declaration that the registrant is entitled by law to receive an authorized copy of the birth certificate

5) Pay $16 for the certified California birth certificate

6) Mail the completed application form, notarized sworn statement and check or money order to CDPH Vital Records
See http://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/birthdeathmar/pages/certifiedcopiesofbirthdeathrecor ds.aspx

B. California Photo Identification Card

To get an original photo identification card from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a person needs to
1) Visit a DMV office
2) Complete application form DL 44
3) Give a thumb print
4) Have his/her picture taken
5) Provide his/her social security number
6) Verify his/her birth date and legal presence through a certified copy of his/her birth certificate or other acceptable documents
7) Pay the application fee. A reduced fee based on income may be available through a public assistance program.
See http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm

C. California Driver’s License

To get an original driver’s license from the DMV, a person over 18 years of age needs to
1) Visit a DMV office
2) Complete application form DL 44
3) Give a thumb print
4) Have his/her picture taken
5) Provide his/her social security number
6) Verify his/her birth date and legal presence through a certified copy of his/her birth certificate or other acceptable document
7) Provide his/her true full name
8) Pay the application fee
9) Pass a vision exam
10) Pass a traffic laws and sign test.
See http://dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm
In order drive a car in the State of California, a person under 18 years of age must qualify for a provisional permit and supply the signatures of his/her parents, legal guardian or person(s) having actual full and complete custody. For further details, see http://dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm#SSN

D. Duplicate California Photo ID or Driver’s License

To a apply for a duplicate (lost or stolen) photo identification card or driver’s license from the DMV, a person needs to
1) Visit a DMV office
2) Complete application form DL 44
3) Give a thumb print
4) Have his/her picture taken
5) Pay the application fee A reduced fee based on income may be available through a public assistance program. No fee for a senior citizen (62 years of age).
See http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm

E. Social Security Card

To apply for a new Social Security number, a U.S. born citizen age 12 or older needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
2) Produce two original or certified copies of documents proving
a. U.S. Citizenship through such documents as a U.S. birth certificate or U.S. consular report of birth or U.S. passport or Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship
b. Age through such documents as a U.S. birth certificate or passport
c. Identity through such documents as a U.S. driver’s license, or state-issued non-driver identification card or U.S. passport or Employee ID card or school ID card, or health insurance card (not a Medicare card) or U.S. military ID card3) Take the completed application and original documents to a Social Security office and be interviewed
See http://www.ssa.gov/ss5doc/?ID=ori&Selfchild=self&Status=us18&Submit=Submit

To get an original social security card for a U.S. born citizen under 12 years of age, a parent or legal guardian needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5); and Show documents proving the child’s:
a. U.S. citizenship;
b. Age
c. Identity
2) Show proof of the parent’s or legal guardian’s identity.
3) Take the completed application and original documents to a Social Security office.
See http://www.ssa.gov/ss5doc/?ID=ori&Selfchild=child&Status=us&Submit=Submit
For further details about applying for a social security card for foreign-born citizens or noncitizens, seehttp://www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/

F. Replacement Social Security Card

To get a replacement social security card, a person needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
2) Show original or certified copies of documents proving Identity and U.S. citizenship or immigration status, if not a U.S. citizen.
3) Take or mail the completed application and documents to a Social Security office. Any documents mailed will be returned.
See http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/251

To get a replacement social security card for a child, a parent or legal guardian needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5).
2) Show original or certified copies of documents proving the child’s identity and U.S. citizenship, current, lawful, work-authorized status if the child is not a U.S. citizen
3) Show a document proving the parent’s or legal guardian’s identity.
4) Take (or mail) the completed application and documents to a Social Security office
See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/?ID=rep&Selfchild=child&Status=us&Submit=Submit
For further details about replacing a social security card for foreign-born citizens or noncitizens, seehttp://www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/

G. Mailing Address

In addition to meeting the requirements to obtaining a certified birth certificate, personal identification card (or driver’s license) and social security card, a homeless person must also overcome the hurdle of having no home address so that he/she can receive the mailed documents. To overcome this hurdle, a homeless person needs to find an alternative acceptable mailing address. Sometimes, nonprofit organizations will offer to serve as a mailing address for a homeless person.

H. The Time Factor

Having patience may or may not be considered as a hurdle to getting identification documents. However, patience is a necessary attribute for any applicant for identification documents, including a homeless person, because each identification document can take anywhere from weeks to months to be received through the mail.

Certainly, the time and effort needed to overcome the hurdles to securing the required identification documentation may delay the receipt of said documents and as a result delay the services needed by a homeless person. Sometimes, these hurdles prove insurmountable for a homeless person and vital services are not received.

Occasionally, the certified birth certificate, a state-issued photo identification card (or driver’s license) and an original social security card are collectively referred to as, “The Holy Trinity of Identification,” a reference to religious belief in The Holy Trinity: God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

However, I prefer to refer to these three documents as “The Trifecta of Identification.” A trifecta is a type of bet in a horse race in which the gambler must select the first three finishers in exact order. Like the gambler winning a trifecta, getting “The Trifecta of Identification” is far from a “sure bet” for a homeless person.

Arson for the Humanitarian

Also published on The Huffington Post

 

At 5 a.m. on Friday morning, January 11, flames rising from Bianca Koch’s red 1991 BMW convertible lit up the alley between Narragansett Avenue and Niagara Street in Ocean Beach, CA (OB). Luckily, the fire department was able to put out the blaze before it could spread to nearby structures. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, Bianca feels that her car was deliberately totaled as a result of arson.

2011-02-18-BiancaKoch.jpgBianca Koch Surveys Her BMWNearly three years ago, Bianca, 40 years old, moved to OB because it was a convenient location for her business of supplying markets, stores and cafes with organic health products. Further, although she had lived in different parts of San Diego, she favored the beauty of Ocean Beach and its small-town neighborhood atmosphere.

Ironically, she also appreciated the sense of security she felt in OB because, in her words, “the beach patrol has everything under control… They check up on people asking them by name, ‘How are you doing?'” She noted that neighborhood groups, including the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association (OBMA), “looked out for everyone” and encouraged the reporting of crimes. Biance felt, “Any time of night, I could step out and go to the beach. There was nothing to be afraid of…That has changed now.”

Although a woman of many interests, Bianca has been concentrating her time on three basic pursuits:

(1) Suppling her customers with organic dehydrated wheat grass, organic fermented Kombucha Tea in amber bottles and alkaline natural spring water in 100 percent biodegradable bottles.

(2) Writing the following articles about OB for the local paper, The Peninsula Beacon:

“Local Police Officers Commended For Excellence,” Opinion Section, Letter to Editor, Nov 18, 2010: Volumne 25 , Number 24.

“Special Christmas in OB; It’s Great to be Part of It,” Opinion Section, Jan 6, 2011, Volume 26, No.1.

“Free Medical Exams to Be Offered In OB,” Summary Page of News, News Brief, Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 2.

“OB: Is it the world’s friendliest dog town?” Guest Commentary by Bianca Koch,
Jan. 27, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 3.

“Headcount on Homeless: OB’s clergy group rallies to address the needs of transients, disadvantaged,” Feb. 10, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 4.

“Tunisian Visitor Sees Mirror Images in Egyptian Crisis,”
Co-authored with Kevin McKay, Feb. 10, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 4.

“Young Students Bring Breath of Fresh Air to Survey,” Feb. 10, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 7.

(3) Working as a volunteer with homeless people, the local churches and outreach groups.

Bianca believes that she knows why a person or people destroyed her vehicle: “I think it is a group of people who don’t like me promoting or helping homeless people or the churches.” Note: Bianca’s car was destroyed the day after her article of February 10, “Headcount on Homeless: OB’s clergy group rallies to address the needs of transients, disadvantaged.”

She cares deeply about the welfare of homeless people.

Bianca explains, “I am very passionate for the human rights of people. Listen, understand, try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to think what it would be like if you were hurt, raped by a relative… They have no one to turn to. Thanks to the churches and the outreach groups for all that they do. But we need more [help].”

What exactly does Bianca do?

“Although I have not been asked to do it, I always have supplies in my car, my former car, for homeless people… I generally don’t give money to them, but I will supply them with needed toiletries so that they know that someone cares. I got a radio for someone who needed a radio to drown out the voices in his head. Most of all I listen. They [the homeless people] all come to me with their problems and everything.”

When does Bianca help homeless people? “I do this every [available] hour of every day.” Bianca is quick to say that helping homeless people ‘is not my mission. It’s a part of my daily life.”

In return for the respect that Bianca shows homeless people, she feels that homeless people “give respect back” to her. Continuing, Bianca says, “If people would respect them, they will give the same respect back. They will try to fit into the community, if they can. No one gives them the chance.”

Since the fire, Bianca has received notice that she must vacate her apartment within 60 days.

So what are her plans for the future?

“I need to buy a car — that’s my immediate goal. I need a place to live. And I need to continue to do what I’m doing [to help homeless people]. I would like other people to join me…

“Treat homeless people with kindness and you will get a lot. There are different economic levels in our community. The different economic levels need to get to know each other. Then we will have a clean, beautiful OB. I wish it would be that way all around the world. But I will start here in OB.”

 

Homelessness Myth #19: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Also published on The Huffington Post

Imagine for a moment the image of a homeless person. How do you feel? Are you imagining someone you respect?

Many of us do not respect homeless people. And by “us,” I mean “housed people.” Often, having respect for homeless people is only a myth.

At home with our families, at work surrounded by colleagues and even with friends, we may thoughtlessly use negative words, such as “bums” or “transients” to describe unhoused people. Our use of these words has become so prevalent that even homeless people use them to describe themselves.

For example, I saw a homeless man wearing overalls taking a shower at the beach two days ago. Standing in the cold weather under even colder running water, the homeless man made a great effort to wash. \As the homeless man finished his shower, he explained to an approaching housed person, “That’s how a bum washes his jeans.”

The word “homeless” is an adjective. There are homeless dogs and homeless cats. We need to remember our nouns. We need to be clear and accurate when we’re speaking about a “homeless person.” By avoiding the noun “person” when we’re talking about someone who is unhoused, we’re essentially dehumanizing the person about whom we’re speaking.

Words count and we know that words can hurt.

In addition, while we may be sympathetic to housed people with various limitations, our empathy does not seem to extend to homeless people with the same limitations. It seems that many of us have become desensitized to the plight of homeless people through constant exposure to negative language and images in our culture. For example, our print, radio and TV media often contain many disrespectful and inaccurate references to “transients,” when those homeless people are often born and raised in the same area in which they are currently homeless.

We may also show disrespect through our treatment of homeless people. Why else would we offer fewer services than are needed by them? We disrespect homeless people when we have insufficient shelter space for the number of homeless people within any municipality. We generally don’t meet homeless people “where they are.” In other words, we often ignore the reality of their situations and require that homeless people live up to our standards in order to get into shelters and/or receive services.

However, there is some very good news. The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego are now attempting to “meet homeless people where they are” by providing housing to 50 and 25, respectively, most-in-need homeless people regardless of their personal needs, habits and/or addictions. After these people are housed, appropriate services will be offered.

Why should we respect homeless people? We need to respect homeless people because they’re people. Living without a home, money, modern conveniences and often a job, they’re suffering more distress than many housed people have ever experienced.

Further, about 45 percent of homeless people are mentally ill. Does this diminish the respect that we owe them? No, because they’re still people. Most of the time we are unaware that certain housed people that we know are mentally ill. Because of a number of factors, mental illness among housed people is often not as obvious as the mental illness of homeless people.

It seems to me that the issues of homelessness have been in existence long enough for homelessness to become a formal science. Although we don’t offer enough shelter to meet the entire need, we now offer homeless people more housing assistance than ever before. Our service programs have become more effective over time and our statistical methods of counting homeless people have improved.

Therefore, it’s time to review our language concerning homeless people, our cultural influences on the topic of homelessness and our treatment of homeless people so that we can recognize our biases. When we realize our negativities, we can make changes to reflect our enlightened state of mind.

Once we respect homeless people, our world will change for the better.

 

Breaking News: “Please Don’t Feed Our Bums!”

Also published on The Huffington Post

“The sticker is the issue.”

– Frank Gormlie, attorney, grassroots activist and editor/publisher of the OB Rag at obrag.org

On June 23, 2010, with local police standing watch, emotions of bystanders ran high as Frank Gormlie sought signatures on his petition requesting that The Black, a head shop in Ocean Beach, CA, cease selling a sticker that Frank said was very close “to hate speech which is illegal.”

The sticker, created by Ken Anderson and a friend, began being sold about two weeks ago at Ken’s place of employment, The Black.  This three-and-a-half square sticker says, “Welcome to Ocean Beach.  Please Don’t Feed Our Bums!”

Hats and tee shirts with the same sticker are also available for purchase at The Black.

The story of this sticker has captured national interest as can be seen in the following video from myFOXphoenix.com.

WATCH:

http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/video/videoplayer.swf?dppversion=2046 

Homelessness Myth #8: One Size Fits All

Also published on The Huffington Post

Since the 1970s, as homelessness in the United States increased dramatically, some social service agencies created short-term homeless emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities to house homeless people. Some service providers emphasized the importance of finding jobs for their clients.  Their theory, “Jobs First,” was that once their homeless clients had jobs, they would be able to afford their own apartments and be housed permanently.

Over twenty years ago, Tanya Tull, president and CEO of Beyond Shelter and founder of Para Los Ninos, developed and implemented an alternative methodology to emergency shelters and transitional housing for the purpose of ending family homelessness that she coined, “Housing First” which:

• provides crisis intervention to address immediate family needs, while      simultaneously or soon thereafter assisting families to develop permanent housing and social service plans

• helps homeless families move into affordable rental housing in residential neighborhoods as quickly as possible, most often with their own lease agreements

• then provides six months to one year of individualized, home-based social services support “after the move” to help each family transition to stability.  (See, http://www.beyondshelter.org)

Similar to the housing first methodology is the “permanent supportive housing” approach  through which homeless people, regardless of whether they have families, can receive permanent housing with services to help prevent and end homelessness.

Together, the housing first methodology and the permanent supportive housing approach have now become widely accepted by some social service providers as “the way” to end homelessness.

But what about the 35% – 45% of the homeless population who have psychological problems? And what about the homeless people who suffer from physically debilitating problems?

I suggest that the first methodology for homeless people who suffer from mental illness and/or physically debilitating problems should be appropriate psychological and/or medical care and treatment.

Every mentally ill person, housed or unhoused, deserves appropriate care and treatment for their illness, even if that appropriate care and treatment means commitment in a mental institution.  Every physically disabled person, housed or unhoused, should receive appropriate care and treatment, even if that means long-term hospitalization.

I asked some people who are or were homeless how they felt about whether one methodology could be utilized as the best way to end homelessness.  Their responses follow.

Maurice:  “I believe that you know that it [the solution to homelessness] is multi-layered.”

Olivia:  “One size cannot fit all.  Many people are just coming out of violent situations, drug rehab, or prison.  [They are] not just jobless.

“Where to put them would be based upon the level and type of psychological problems they may have…

And prison does not train its inmates to behave appropriately for mixed-gender society.  Mental institutions with therapists and staff do.

“You must separate those with severe psychological problems from those without.  Otherwise, you create an environment that is psychologically, emotionally and physically dangerous to those who may be leaving stressful situations…

“[Some people] believe that healthy clients living in close quarters with those still in recovery from drugs, violence or prostitution will positively affect a change in the ill.  But, we’re not psychologists and it is merely putting new prey in the hands of predators recovering from such.”

Barbara R.:  “The concept of “one size fits all” is ludicrous, asinine and insane.  Try and take the dynamics, for example of women, children, men separately, whole families, and the new trans-gender population.  How can one remedy cure all the ailments?”

Melanie:  “The solution to the homeless issue is to view each individual within the homeless population as unique, and in so doing, properly address his/her situation in such a way that is in accordance with his/her vision of happiness.”

Pamela:  “The myth that one size fits all as a solution to homelessness is definitely not possible because the requirements to bring a person from homelessness into self-sufficiency is a process that inherently must be individualized.

“Individuals need a community network that is able to supply the needs of a wide variety of services that are available to bring them from the state of homelessness into self-sufficiency.”

Tim:  “Can’t get a phone call.   How can my needs be met?”

I believe that all social service agencies that are doing good things for homeless people are doing something great.

I further believe that we should continue, support and fully fund housing first and permanent supportive housing projects.

Finally, I believe that in order to help homeless people who have many different needs, we need simultaneous implementation of many kinds of approaches and methodologies, including the following three steps to ending homeless:

1.  Public toilets, showers and laundries

2.  Housing, transitional and permanent, with supportive services

3.  A self-sufficient village on an abandoned military base

• where homes and apartments would be available for families and individuals
• where a building would be available with services for mentally ill people
• where a building would be available with services for those people with dual diagnosis
• where a building would be available to house and provide for homeless orphans
• where light industry could provide employment for the residents
• nearby an established school district where the youth could attend classes
• run at first by a council of nonprofit agencies and then, as soon as practical, run by the         duly-elected representatives of the self-sufficient village.

Homelessness Myth #5: Sleep-Walking Will End Homelessness

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Some of us ignore the issues of homelessness.  When we walk past homeless people, we may even pretend that these people do not exist.  I call the act of ignoring homeless people who are right in front of our eyes, “sleep-waking past homeless people.”

Of course, sleeping is a natural function for all human beings.  Mark Stibich, PhD. wrote in About.com Guide, updated on May 8, 2009, that sleep is important for people because:

1.  Sleep keeps your heart healthy; 2.  Sleep may prevent cancer; 3.  Sleep reduces stress; 4.  Sleep reduces inflammation; 5.  Sleep makes you more alert; 6.  Sleep bolsters your memory; 7.  Sleep may help us lose weight; 8.  Naps make you smarter; 9.  Sleep may reduce your risk for depression; and 10. Sleep helps the body make repairs.

From reading this lengthy list of benefits, it is obvious that sleep is very helpful to our well-being.

However, one thing that sleeping will not do is help to end homelessness.  Since the 1970’s, homelessness has increased and homeless people have become a familiar sight.  Often, housed people turn a blind eye to the plight of homeless people.  But why?

In my experience, some housed people ignore homeless people for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the most common reason is that these housed people are afraid of becoming homeless themselves.  This fear is similar to the fear of contracting a disease that some of us experience when we are around a person we know has a disease.

By merely acknowledging the existence of a homeless person, some housed people are reminded of the fragility of their own economic existence.  They begin to think that their job and/or savings could go away and they remind themselves that they are only a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless.  This fear is based upon today’s economic reality.

Further, homeless people are often ignored because some of us housed people have become so familiar with what we deem to be their unsightly images, the “blight of homelessness,” that we just want homeless people to go away.  We are not surprised to see homeless women and men. Rather, we have come to almost expect to see homeless people standing on the corner or sitting in the park. The expression, “familiarity breeds contempt” may hold true in this case, particularly with regard to homeless adults.

Perhaps, some of us are surprised to see children we think are being unsheltered with their parent or parents. Seeing children who are unsheltered is not a familiar sight because they are usually either in school and/or being hidden by their parent(s).

Homeless parents sometimes hide their child to avert the perceived threat that their child will be taken away from them by law enforcement authorities. I say “perceived threat” because homelessness is not in itself enough grounds for the police to take away children from their homeless families. However, if a child is in danger because of being homeless or if their parent(s) is suspected of being an unfit parent, for example, the police have a positive duty to protect the child and remove the child.

Finally, some housed people may be afraid of some homeless people because these homeless people are strangers. As children, we are taught to be afraid of strangers with instructions such as, “Never talk to strangers!”  This fear of strangers is meant to protect children from danger.

However, adults have a greater ability than children to understand life situations and the new people they encounter.  While fear of the unknown is a common fear, we adults can change unknown strangers into acquaintances through the simple technique of introducing ourselves to people when we meet them.

By “sleep-walking past homeless people,” we will never solve homelessness. We cannot end homelessness by ignoring the problem.

We need to wake up!

Only by being aware of something, can we affect it.  Only by becoming aware of the issues of homelessness, will we be able to solve them.  Awareness of the issues of homelessness comes through opening our eyes and truly seeing homeless men, women and children.

Once we are awake and aware of the plight of homeless people, we can educate ourselves by directly serving those in need, by assisting people and programs already in place to help others and by attending workshops and seminars on the topic of homelessness.  Through our own education, we can understand what we can do to help those in need.

Finally, through compassion, which is factually love in action, we can resolve the issues of homelessness.

I suggest the following steps to cure “sleep-walking past homeless people:”  Awareness, Education, Understanding and Compassion.