Why You Should Care About Homelessness in NC

>>Homeless vetThis week as I start food shopping for Thanksgiving, I’m spending much more time reading the labels on foods. I want hormone-free, non-processed, no-high fructose corn syrup food for my family. I’m blessed because we can afford it. The extra hundred or so we spend a month on higher quality food is absorbed in our budget. Thousands can’t afford to put any food on their table — nevermind have a table to put that food upon.

This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. As we think about what we’re thankful for, we should think of our neighbors who have little or no food to eat or, worse, no place to live.

Based on the latest count that took place this January, there are more than >>11,000 homeless people in North Carolina. Nearly a quarter of them are children. Many of the adults in this category also suffer from mental and/or physical illness.

No one decides as a child they want to become homeless. It’s not something people aspire to, and it’s important to realize that once people do reach homelessness, they are at their point of last resort. Climbing out of their situation isn’t something one can accomplish on their own.

There are homeless people in your city. Your children may even go to school with some of them. Ride by the soup kitchen and you can see them. I do. I see them, but I try not to LOOK at them. I try not to consider what got them there, or imagine for a moment what life is like in their tired, worn-out shoes. If I allowed myself to dwell on it, I think it would eat away at me – especially when I consider the children involved.

But I’m wrong. I need to get invested, we all do, both individually and as a community. These are people who were born with the same potential as us. They were all cute, adorable babies with the light of the world in their eyes. Something or someone or both took that light away, and it says something about our society that we are letting these people disappear.

A friend of mine, >>Josh Martin, opened his eyes one day and really looked at a homeless man he had passed by almost every day on his way to work. One day he started asking the man questions. Turns out, the man is a veteran whose disability paperwork got lost in the system two years before. My friend made a few calls to Senator Kay Hagan’s office and within a few weeks, the man’s benefits were in place and he was able to find housing.

Not all of us can be Josh Martins, but there are >>things we can do:

  1. Donate your time. There are organizations in every city that need help with meal preparation and other responsibilities. Do you have a special skill like building or teaching?
  2. Donate supplies. Organizations need clothing, blankets, jackets, toiletries and more.
  3. Fundraise. Organize in your community. Put out a collection jar at your holiday dinner.
  4. Give directly to an individual. We can debate over panhandling and whether giving money is the best idea, but what about paying directly for a hot meal, clothes, transportation or other services?
  5. Smile. These people are humans. Look them in the eye when you pass them. Don’t stare, don’t look away. We can’t continue to treat them like “untouchables” and go home and feel like we’ve done right by our world.

As for me, I’m going to challenge myself this holiday. My kids have a lot of blessings and I’m beginning to think they’re taking our cozy home, toys, and ski trips for granted. I’m going to find a project for them to work on with our local homeless population, and I’ll commit to reporting back on what we experience. You can hold me to it.

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