Hope in the Homeless



According to the “National Alliance to End Homelessness,” homelessness is an epidemic that plagues about 643,067 people nationwide. But here in the wholesome, happy, suburban town, Los Altos, it is an issue that we are hardly ever exposed to.

For me, this changed during the past summer. While staying in Providence, Rhode Island for a college program, I was able to put faces to this overwhelming statistic. A broad-shouldered man with perspiration coating his face sleeping without a shirt on top of a threadbare blanket by the local CVS. A woman with strawberry blonde hair in dreadlocks donning a pair of cracked sunglasses and some tattered overalls. An old lady with a hunch, a wobble, and mismatched socks leaning against the railing of a bridge for support. These people, though so strikingly different from each other, were so similar in the way they pleaded me to spare a dollar or two. It was heartbreaking and eye-opening. It was then I realized how truly ignorant I had been to this major crisis in our world.

Many of us at Pinewood, myself included, dream of venturing the road to higher education in large, unfamiliar cities. Places like New York, Seattle, and Boston all boast an impressive repertoire of colleges, but all of these cities rank among the highest in homeless populations. Closer to home, the state of California is a “front-runner” in this problem, accounting for 20 percent of the homeless population nationwide, as stated in an article from the Los
Angeles Times.

In addition to Los Angeles’ signature palm trees, camps of homeless people are strewn along the roadsides of South L.A., Hollywood, Venice, and Santa Monica. Over 40,000 people are facing homelessness, 70 percent of which are unsheltered. Yet, it isn’t something you think of when you envision
the glamorous metropolis.

Because homelessness is so prominent in our world, it is important that we begin to learn about the epidemic now. First, we must start with dispelling our false perceptions and stereotypes of the homeless demographic. Most people assume that all homeless people are elderly, decrepit-looking men begging on the side of the road, or that they are uneducated, unemployed dumpster-divers. But even if that is what they appear to be on the surface, nobody wants to be recognized by only their situation. Every homeless person has a more complex and unique story. It is important that we see them as regular people, caught up in unfortunate circumstances. They are experiencing homelessness, but should not be defined by it.

In addition to the large majority of veterans and the mentally or physically disabled, there is a growing number of the homeless working-poor this decade. This major change comes from the displacement of the lower working class, exiled from their homes which are being renovated to accommodate
more affluent residents.

Besides understanding who the homeless are, it is equally important to understand how to help them. If you want to help, there are several ways to contribute. You can donate clothing, food, and hygiene products to your local housing organization or volunteer to tutor homeless children. Another idea is to carry around unused gift cards for coffee shops or chain restaurants to hand out to beggars. This way, you can ensure that they use the money for food rather than purchasing illegal substances.

Remember, the most minor acts of kindness can yield positive changes in helping the homeless. If a smile is the most you have to offer, please do not give it sparingly. Something seemingly inconsequential like a warm smile in place of the standard scathing look from a passerby might just make a homeless person’s hardships slightly
more bearable.

On a bigger scheme, it is important to not perceive homelessness as a “chronic condition” of certain unfortunate individuals. If we are aware of the causes and present realities of the homeless, we can find a way to stand up for them and resolve their situation. We can write to corporations in regards to homeless civil rights and low-income housing and advocate to start state homelessness prevention programs. Homelessness may be a chapter of some people’s lives, but with help from people like you and I, it does not have to be the whole story.