The sheer size of the homeless problem is, itself, a topic which has been marginalized within the news media. The numbers are staggering, and they need to be part of an ongoing national conversation. The official count of about 600 thousand is estimated to be one-fifth to one-sixth of the true number. On average, across the United States, for example, one in every thirty students in grades K-12 are known to be homeless.
Think about that for a moment: in virtually every classroom, at least one student, on average, is going through at least part of their formative years of education and growing up in homeless circumstances. How, exactly, do you "finish your homework" when you don't live in a home? This a problem with an ongoing legacy of social cost.
Another rapidly growing segment of the homeless population is among seniors. Of the numbers of folks nationally living on the streets, in shelters, or in their cars, it is estimated that 28 percent of them are age 50 or older; there is an expected doubling of the total number by 2050.
And then, there are military veterans who have returned from service to their country, only to have major difficulties transitioning back into the civilian population. Our Veterans Administration is in the middle of a monumental stuggle to simply provide the most basic services for these too-easily forgotten folks.
A person is considered homeless if he or she "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and ... has a primary nighttime residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings." In America, estimates are that vacant houses outnumber the homeless popluation by five times.
I am on a mission to bring the plight of the homeless, as well as the opportunities to strategically serve them, to the general public, as well as to the leaders and the policy-makers who, together, can make a significant difference in the lives and circumstances of, perhaps, America's most marginalized population.
Involuntary homelessness can strike almost anyone in America. For the most part, many people are no more than a paycheck or two away from toppling from a position of delicate financial balancing and of life coping, to losing not only a place to live, but also the very life circumstances necessary to be able to hold down a job and climb slowly out of poverty. These are fellow citizens, and human beings --and it can happen to anybody.
Too often local governments or law enforcement simply follow a "kick the problem to the curb" approach, by outlawing asking for money on the streets, or sleeping in a public area, to threatening incarceration unless the homeless somehow "disappear." Often, money is offered through channels to get homeless folks to simply move to another city. This does nothing to solve the problem, and creates permanent transcience.
Richard's "Breakfast at Sally's" leads to... TheWillowandRichardProject
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The Willow and Richard Project is a Washington State registered non-profit coporation, a public charity which depends on broad-based public support. Your contribution is vital to our work! Your gifts will support my public school speaking program, where I can alert our youth to pressing needs and opportunities --even among their own classmates!
Willow and I had the privilege of meeting with John and Annie Glenn. See Willow's smile? : )
Like you, I believe in the power of stories to awaken people from apathy. I speak regularly in many different venues, from elementary schools, to high schools and university campuses, to libraries, national conventions, fundraisers, and so on. Each place I visit, there are, invariably, those who approach me with their own stories, or who indicate a newfound desire to volunteer their help.
I wrote "Breakfast at Sally's" as a chronicle of my own journey from apathy to an awakening of profound proportions, as I became homeless myself, and began to learn about life all over again. The daily challenges, miracles of compassion and comraderie among the poorest and most marginalized is a testament to the human spirit, and to the issue of what really matters in life-- a genuine valuing of people who are disadvantaged, as fellow travelers --and sources of inspiration and joy.