How do you get people to care about homelessness?
My cursor blinks, indefinitely, upon a blank white screen. That’s a hard question.
I began writing extensively about this topic, the homeless crisis, many years before this blog was born. I’ve cared about homelessness for a very long time.
At the age of 16, I started writing and submitting journal entries discussing homelessness to my high school English teacher.
Over a decade ago, after the sudden death of my husband’s father, he and his younger siblings lost their home. He slept in a park across the street from the insurance company my mother worked at. I’d often find him, at 6:30 am, washing up in the public restroom, in the dark, alone. After a few months, he was taken off the street by a social worker and brought to a youth shelter.
As a child, I had friends and peers who lived out of cars, in parks, with their often working parents barely making ends meet.
Then, a decade later, we find ourselves reentering a distant memory, as our on-site caseworker reminds us that he is only a paycheck away from switching places with us.
Today, I am housed. Again. But, let’s be honest for a second. My chances of becoming homeless again are far greater than, say, suddenly becoming rich. Landing a book deal. Winning the lottery. None of those things are going to happen, but I could very well become homeless again.
Both my husband and I are employed. We’re college educated. We live in a middle class neighborhood. I have a kind and generous landlord. I have a fantastic union job. My husband has steady hours. Most of the time, we eat well too. But in the event of an emergency? I’m not sure.
Today, I find myself in a peculiar place, when it comes to the topic of homelessness.
I am privileged.
I am a young, able-bodied, light-skinned, well-spoken, and college educated.
I am both your author and my audience — it’s discourse community, and it’s stakeholder.
And, in a way, you kind of are too!
In the brilliant article Why It’s So Hard to Stop Being Homeless in New York, written in New York Magazine, we learn that the homeless are not “an anomaly: 71 percent of the shelter population is made up of families, a third of whom have a head of household who is working. ‘The new working poor are homeless,’ says Christine Quinn, the former City Council Speaker who now serves as chief executive for Win, a shelter provider for women and families.
‘A lot of them work for the city or not-for-profits. I can’t tell you I don’t have a Win employee living in a shelter somewhere.’”
Many homeless citizens are serving their communities much like the rest of us. Homeless families are serving their communities and are vital parts of their communities, and yet, that same community, that some society — us, all of us — we not serving them in return.
Additionally, “Between 2000 and 2014, the median New York City rent increased 19 percent while household income decreased by 6.3 percent.
In that same period, the city’s homeless population more than doubled from 22,972 to 51,470. There are now around 60,000 people in the city’s shelter system, an all-time peak.”
What does that say about us, as a collective? We must all do our part, right?
I believe that humanizing the homeless, as we often fail to do, is the real key to solving such a devastating and growing problem. Invisible People does just that, and does it incredibly well.
We have to talk to the homeless and get their side of the story.
We have to write about it — make room for the difficult and otherwise painful dialogue.
This is the only way we can truly help anyone, by communicating the many unseen and unheard truths. This is the only way we can avoid assumptions and biases, and finally move forward and impact real, sustainable change.
And, you know, ending homelessness doesn’t only help homeless people. Ending homelessness is good for all of us. Reform to the New York City shelter system, homeless rights, and tenant and landlord relations will have many direct effects on many different stakeholders.
For a homeless individual, this could mean better shelter conditions, as well as better access to services needed to the mentally or physically ill, LGBTQ youth, families, or the elderly.
It means more people housed — and that’s a good thing. More people housed means more more people employed, more people educated, and more families taken care of. And that’s just the tip of iceberg! In fact, it’s well understood by experts that homelessness, in many cases, can lead to an increase in emergency room visits, ambulance calls and other associated costs too.
So, how do you get people to care about homelessness?
I’d like to think that the very existence of such an atrocity would be enough to get people to care. But due to reasons I’ve yet to understand — it’s just not enough.
if I make it about them,
if I make it about you,
you’ll start to care.
What to read more about my story? Go here.