It just takes a little effort to help the homeless
WHO are these homeless people wandering around our streets, looking for a handout, needing a shower, often drunk and disorderly, disrupting our comfort zones? There are plenty of jobs in this economy. Go to work! Go to a shelter! Go to a hospital! Go to a church ... just GO!
If you have never been homeless or been close to someone who is or has been homeless, it's easy to fall prey to this attitude. Ignoring the homeless in a society that celebrates its winners is all too easy. But once you begin to appreciate who the homeless are, you cannot escape understanding that, except for the grace of God, genes and some good luck, any one of us could be homeless.
Drugs, alcohol, disabilities in the broadest sense, mental illness, unemployment or reduced employment -- all can be both causes and effects of homelessness. In simplest terms, homelessness occurs when someone's capacities, resources and relationships aren't sufficient to clear the hurdle of maintaining an address. But as important as that seems, it need not be the defining moment in that person's life. More critical is that homeless person's perception of the future, the fact that there can be a life after homelessness, a life of relationships, stability and satisfaction.
NOT ONLY can the best of a homeless person's past be revitalized, but the experiences of being homeless are not all negatives. The experiences of being homeless can be the prelude to a brighter future life. Homelessness can prepare people for uniquely effective contributions in their newfound communities. Wouldn't you agree that the homeless deserve at least the chances to help themselves? That basic idea, that core value, has been with us from early biblical prophets to pioneering missionaries to our current practitioners of modern social services. As easy as it is to criticize government, churches, agencies and even neighbors for not doing enough, there are people who are working every day to help homeless people and their families gain the knowledge, skills and motivation to improve their own lives.
THE COMPLEXITIES of homelessness require attention to the causes plus the required treatment, services and productivity models to enable recovery. The River of Life Mission in Chinatown provides case management services and individual plans to get out of homelessness. The state has created homeless shelters in Kakaako and Waianae that care for homeless individuals and families. The Institute for Human Services offers overnight shelter and food. United Self Help in Moiliili serves people seeking recovery from mental illnesses, offering employment preparation and other activities. The National Alliance on Mental Illness Family-to-Family program helps family members of people with mental illnesses. Aloha United Way has a 211 general help line; the state mental health crisis line is 832-3100.
Homelessness isn't just about lack of an address or a roof overhead. The core of homelessness is the absence of the human foundations of a home, the caring relationships to draw on when times are tough and uncertain. Someone who has family, friends, colleagues or church is much less likely to be homeless. When someone you know is having trouble, be there for them. When someone you don't know is having trouble, try getting to know them. Their journey back can begin with the first steps you can help them take.
Jim Mihalke is program director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Hawaii.