I am a lifelong resident of Jefferson County. Prior to my employment at JCCM, I was unaware of how many members of our community are homeless. While I saw someone from time to time standing at a busy intersection holding a sign asking for some sort of help, I had no idea many others in need were out there. Once I was employed at JCCM, however, I quickly understood the intense need for services in Jefferson County to help the homeless. Furthermore, I realized that many others in our community are simply uninformed about the dynamics of homelessness. I hope to shed a little light on this dark subject to ease the struggle the homeless face, even if all that is offered is a smile or a wave.
Please take a moment and visualize an older gentleman sitting on the sidewalk with a few plastic grocery store bags and a blanket. He smells of alcohol and is mumbling to himself. Like most people, you probably assume the man is a drunk and brought himself to this point. But what if you knew more of his story? What if you knew that at age six he started drinking from the half empty bottles his abusive, alcoholic parents left around the house? What if you knew that despite his physical appearance as a grown man, he was mentally a child?
Now visualize a woman holding a sign seeking help for herself and her children. Your first reaction might be that she gets a job. But what if you knew she had applied for several jobs, but no one will hire her because she lacks work experience thanks to her abuser forbidding her to work? And what if you knew that she had fled her abuser and that every women’s shelter was full?
I can offer one example after another of individuals and families whose situations are much more complex than what is evident to passersby. No family chooses homelessness.
Jefferson County has over a thousand students who identify as homeless under the McKinney Vento Act. This means they are staying in a motel/hotel, emergency shelter, with family/friends, or living in a place not meant for human habitation. Jefferson County does not have an emergency shelter that accommodates families with minor children. A dire need exists for more affordable housing. I hope the community that shaped me and that I love so dearly will come together to help our neighbors in need. All can help by donating, volunteering, or simply showing a little compassion. Our community will be blessed for our efforts.
“Love and compassion are necessities. Without them humanity cannot survive.” (Dalai Lama)