Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who Are the Homeless?

There’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell, but I’m not sure how to tell it.  This will be a bit disjointed and full of my usual run-on sentences, but here goes:

Long ago and far away, I was in a relationship with “B”.  It lasted about four years.  The breakup wasn’t painful or dramatic, it was just kind of sad.  We’d had a good relationship, it had just run its course.  Since the breakup wasn’t acrimonious, we stayed in touch – a Christmas card here, a birthday card there.  I would also hear about B via our mutual friends.  Another nice thing about our civil breakup was that our friends didn’t feel the need to “take sides”.  Over the years, I would hear things (from B or his friends) about normal life events:  he might get married, he took a trip, he bought a car, etc.  Over time, B and I didn’t send cards anymore, so I would just hear about him via friends.  A year or so ago, I heard something that shocked me:

B was homeless.

How could this have happened?  Well, B had lost his job and couldn’t find another.  He fell behind on rent.  He’d borrowed money from friends until they wouldn’t give him any more.  He lost his home, and then his car.  Last I heard, he was living in a homeless shelter in the city.

Out of all the people I would have thought this could happen to, it would never have occurred to me that it would be him.  He was a proud man and a hard worker.  So then I thought, “Who are the homeless?”  The answer is as varied as the people themselves.  We tend to see the stereotypes:  the mentally ill, the drug addicts, and the welfare moochers.  However, much of the homeless population is made up of people just like you and me.  The homeless population is growing.  Think about the things we see in the news every day:  a high jobless rate, companies continuing to lay off workers, bland economic outlook and sky-high foreclosure rates.  Millions of people (in almost all income brackets) live paycheck to paycheck.  When that paycheck disappears, they are in a world of hurt.

What can we do to help the homeless?  I honestly don’t know.  Since I’ve been out of work for the past couple of years, I have been focusing on myself and my job search.  Maybe I feel a little guilty (survivor’s guilt?) because I’ve been so fortunate.  Although I’ve been laid off many times, I’ve made it through every time unscathed, even through my most recent layoff.  I’ve never borrowed money or lost my home, and can’t imagine being in the position of having to do so.  I have it all:  a roof over my head, food on the table, clothes on my back, health, family, friends, and a new job.

Although there isn’t really anything I can do to help B, I don’t know that I would if I could.  It hurts to say that, but it’s true.  You see, B would be mortified if he knew that I knew he was homeless.  He’s a proud man, and would presumably be embarrassed to accept any charity from me.  Every time I go to the city, I am scared that I am going to run into him.  What would I say?  What would I do?  It would certainly be uncomfortable for both of us.  Well, I will just have to deal with it if it happens.  In the meantime, I just hope to hear that he finds somewhere to live instead of the shelter.  One of these days, I will probably hear that he is dead.  Hopefully that day is a long time from now.

Update:  Just today, I received an email from one of our mutual friends.  B has moved to the state his elderly parents live in.  Although he is not living with them, he has found a menial job in exchange for room and board.  May he find the peace that has eluded him.

Who are the homeless?  They’re me.  They’re you.  They’re us.


  1. That is such a sad story of your friend.

    I had a professor in college who told us that, after he graduated from law school he was so broke that he was basically homeless. He lived in his car, drove to a shelter for a shower and breakfast and then went to work. Every dime he had went to pay off loans or buy a suit so his co-workers didn't know he was homeless.

  2. I was days away from becoming homeless myself, when the opportunity came up to move from California to Idaho. I'm not a bad person, sometimes circumstance just gets the best of us.

    I love this post. Thank you for saying these words.

  3. That's pretty frightening. You don't realize how easily it could happen to you until you hear stories like this. Poor guy.

  4. there but for the grace of god go i...

    nice post, it is a huge and growing problem...

  5. This post brought so many emotions. So many of us are so close to being that person. Myself included.


I love comments - bring 'em on!