Bona Fide Disputes

Homelessness is an epidemic that can be solved

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Today over 70 news outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle, are putting aside their competitive journalistic instincts to write about San Francisco’s greatest social crisis: homelessness. I encourage all of you, not matter where you live or where you’re from, to pay attention, read the stories and begin to understand that homelessness is an experience, not an identity — one that we can put an end to. San Francisco is simply the poster child for today. LA just declared a homeless state of emergency. It’s about damn time, is all I have to say.

Just off the top of my head, thought I would take some time to help change perceptions in one fell swoop. After working for a nonprofit whose end goal is to end homelessness and talking with people who are homeless and working hard to rebuild their lives, I feel a duty to share this perspective.

I know this one post won’t do it for everyone all at once, but it’s the beginning. The truth is, until everyone truly SEES homelessness, and realizes the man standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign and his beaten down dog is someone’s father or brother or son — and that he doesn’t want to be living on the streets, and whose only family now is his dog — we’re not going to end homelessness in San Francisco or anywhere for that matter. Any one of us could become homeless at any time.

Americans don’t know how to save for one, and if you don’t have a support system to fall back on — good luck. It’s easy to become homeless, but nearly impossible to get out of it. Take a look at your life and realize how lucky you are that you have the support system that allows you to make mistakes, get help and stay secure. Not everyone is blessed with this, and not everyone will keep these ties. It’s true, some people burn their bridges and make bad choices, but everyone deserves a 2nd, 3rd, 10th chance. People do change. I’ve witnessed it countless times. From a felon to an upstanding citizen.

Next time you see someone who is homeless, nod, wave, say hello. You might just spark the little bit of hope that’s left inside them to go find the support they need.

***Quick facts just off the top of my head that may surprise you (unless you’ve heard me say them before, which is quite possible!):

• Keeping a person on the streets is far more expensive than housing them. In Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley), it’s 4x more expensive. Homelessness cost the county $520 million in just one year.

• People become homeless for all kinds of reasons including mental illness, debt, unable to pay healthcare bills, divorce, drug and alcohol addiction, eviction, job loss and domestic violence.

• Drug addiction and alcohol abuse is NOT the #1 reason a person becomes homeless, but often people become addicted to drugs while homeless to stay awake at night to protect their belongings and to stay warm. Those winter nights are deadly, but sweltering heat waves are just as gruesome.

• Most people grew up in the city they are currently homeless. In other words, they did not travel to California for the nice weather. This is their home, and just like you, are hesitant to leave, and probably don’t’ have the resources to do so anyway.

• It’s incredibly rare that someone chooses to be homeless. Think to yourself, would you want to live on the streets, sleeping on the hard ground, fearing for your life? Didn’t think so.

• Affordable housing is the solution, in many cases, to homelessness. But it’s not always the root problem.

• Homeless people want to work. They want to feel needed, that they’re contributing to their community. Many of them did work, held high paying jobs, before landing on the streets with barely a cent to their name.

• One of the worst parts about being homeless is feeling invisible. Remember, every homeless person is
– Someone’s mother
– Someone’s father
– Someone’s sister
– Someone’s brother
– Someone’s daughter
– Someone’s son

Thanks for reading my novel of a post. Feel free to ask questions and leave your comments, just please be kind. Now go out there and help change perceptions! Start by reading the stories ‪#‎SFHomelessProject‬http://projects.sfchronicle.com/sf-homeless/?cmpid=sfc_em_bh

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