During those morning treks, I tend to drive with “blinders” on and not pay attention to my surroundings. Several weeks ago, I decided to look around while driving through Downtown.
Riding down Commerce Street, I saw old buildings - some newly renovated, some in the process of renovation, others in disarray. Along several of the buildings, I noticed large pieces of cardboard and blankets used by the homeless who were trying to sleep.
One Saturday morning after class, I decided to take a walk through Downtown and visit several homeless people. I stumbled upon a Downtown organization that helps the homeless: The Beacon Day Center. They provide meals, showers and laundry services to over 600 people from Friday-Monday.
Once inside The Beacon, I noticed a man near the kitchen area with a textbook writing a term paper. His name was Gerard and was studying Computer Science at HCC. He happily spoke to me about his life and journey.
Several years ago, Gerard and his wife were in a car accident. He seriously injured his back and became dependent on pain killers. Last year, Gerard lost his job, wife, and apartment. He’s been homeless ever since.
“I was married, happy, with no financial worries," says Gerard. “Through the years, drugs slowly slipped into my life and it greatly affected my marriage and ministry.”
Determined to turn his life around, Gerard applied for assistance and was awarded a Pell Grant to attend college. He is focused and determined to succeed in school and life.
While walking back to the UHD campus, I met Robert near the bayou. He was anxious to speak with me about his situation. “I came here after Katrina and have no family or
friends,” says Robert. “I’m an alcoholic and it is hard to keep a decent job. People look at me and see I’m homeless and don’t give me a chance anymore. It’s easier staying on the streets. You get used to being on the streets and the way things work.”
There is another world amongst us; a world where people live in the streets and back alleys of our city. This homeless world is created through addiction, mental illness, job loss, foreclosure, Post-Traumatic Stress and lack of family support. Many homeless people battle depression, addiction and despair. They feel unwanted and unloved. There are those who choose to be homeless and those who have no choice. Although opinions on the homeless may differ, we need to remember that they are here and they need us.
The homeless person one may see and ignore is a human being. That person is someone’s father, son or brother. A mother, daughter or sister. If someone saw a family member lying outside on a piece of cardboard, I believe they would be appalled and would stop to help.
Imagine if that homeless person was you.
Although a large number of the homeless deal with mental and physical conditions that require the assistance of organizations like ‘The Beacon’, these people need social interaction, respect and understanding as well. They need caring individuals. A smile, handshake, or hug can make a difference.
Remember, the homeless are among us. We can make a difference in their lives.