The weather is turning cold and my thoughts turn to those who do not have the security of a warm home. Locally, there is good news to report as thoughtful citizens have joined with the Hospitality House to open a new warming center that can give more homeless citizens some shelter from the brutal elements that are descending upon the Midwest.
Good news, indeed, and heartfelt thanks to the people who are stepping up for those who cannot. The battle isn’t won, however, because space is limited and the conditions that create homelessness may be increasing. What also happens when state and city budgets get tight is that opposition to such efforts often digs in.
Without comprehensive efforts by communities in consort with government to understand homelessness the issue is often pushed off from agency to agency, and needed funds are not provided. Every politician, especially in an election cycle, and every well-meaning citizen has compassion for those who have fallen through the cracks, but when push comes to shove in the creation of budgets, poverty and homelessness are often not prioritized.
Constituents see the effect of better roads. They champion better schools. Even casinos to bring in revenue. But a family living in their car, whose clothes smell of sweat, can appear as a distant concern. And unfortunately, prejudices also arise.
Voices demean their predicament. “They’re lazy, that’s why they’re unemployed.”
“I’m not giving my hard-earned money to people who don’t want to work.”
“There are plenty of jobs if you really want one.”
It is easy for a segment of society to give in to the myth that poverty is self-inflicted, and society’s role should be to toughen people up. In reality homelessness is caused by several factors that include 1) inability to gain sufficient employment, 2) a family legacy of poverty, 3) illnesses or impairments and lack of needed services, 4) substance abuse (and lack of needed services), and 5) lack of affordable housing.
Even if you are employed and cannot pay for basic needs you can end up homeless.
I am not in the trenches with those who work tirelessly to aid the homeless, but I volunteer and help support the Hospitality House in Waterloo. I’ve witnessed the poverty paradigm where options many of us take for granted are erased.
How does someone get a job if they don’t have a car? Or a phone? Or clean clothes? How does someone get a good night’s sleep without a bed?
A vicious cycle quickly takes hold when someone is on the street. Alcohol and drugs find entry in a downtrodden life.
These are not conditions to chastise, they are conditions we must address with services, patience and human power to provide shelter, food, education, and health services.
It starts with funding. It starts with recognizing that this is our community and everyone within it deserves our compassion. It starts there because “there but for the grace of God go any of us.”
I’ve met people with challenges, who had addictions, lost their jobs, or just had insurmountable bad luck, whose lives were given a chance simply from having a bed and necessary services.
The Cedar Valley has several organizations designed to help those in need. Google “homeless services in Cedar Valley Iowa” and consider one of the many ways you can help. Write to your representatives. Ask them their plans to provide shelter, create jobs, expand education and health services to those trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Consider the greater community that awaits us.