Editor's note: For World Homeless Day, 10.10.18, we’re turning the keyboard over to a few of our current and former residents. Who better to explain what homeless people really need?
Phillip: Face to face, one at a time
I have lived at the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane for the past 14 months. My homelessness was caused by alcohol and drug dependency. Keeping a job and a place of my own has been impossible for me.
Through the LIFE Recovery Program offered here, I have begun to understand the causes of my addictive behavior, my struggle with relationship and thus my inability to function normally in society. I have learned that adverse childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect are very common in the men whom I’ve talked to who have called this mission home (myself included).
There are, of course, other reasons why we become homeless; mental illness, diminished mental capacity and physical disabilities are all present in any homeless community. There are elderly persons who have often led very productive and fascinating lives but have found themselves alone and unable to take care of themselves in the twilight of their lives.
And, perhaps worst of all, there are children. Today I saw a young man of about 3 come to supper at UGM wearing no shoes. It’s sad to think what his life must be like, and what his future holds.
I thank God for the UGM. I think it’s the closest thing to perfection that humans can come in the “battle” with homelessness.
The problem is so complex that the only way to deal with it is face to face, one situation at a time, with love and compassion. It’s labor intensive, but all relationships are. It takes special people to do this work, and this organization is full of them.
This is a very uncommon place. We need more.
Melissa: A pillow and a blanket
Being homeless and finally able to lay my head down on a pillow and have the warmth of blankets has a meaning I cannot explain. I was safe with this blanket, and I hadn't been for so long before. The basic things in life get taken for granted so easily.
Experiencing homelessness has really taught me how grateful I am for the little things. For me, having the safe place (this blanket) and socks humbled me to my core. I used to be a little embarrassed that I had been homeless, but over the years I have learned to cherish that time of my life. It was one of the most important times in my life. I am who I am today because of my experience.
I'm always so thankful that I turned to UGM. I'm not sure I would be where I am today without the lessons I learned. I felt important again, I had purpose, and a great group of very caring people. Ahh, I'm so blessed!!
Leanne: Help, not ridicule
No matter what the cause of a person’s homelessness is, I can guarantee you that there isn’t a single person who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I love being homeless, this is the life!”
Quite to the contrary, they are embarrassed of the situation that they are in and ashamed of the judgmental looks, stares, and comments they receive from others. There is nothing more degrading than being so far gone mentally that you can’t even manage to keep a roof over your head.
So, the main thing I wish people understood about being homeless is that homelessness is a symptom of a disease and that those who suffer need help, not ridicule.
Brian: Question the stereotypes
My view of homelessness was a very ignorant one for most of my life until I became homeless. I thought that being homeless meant that you were lazy, drunk, or high, or both, and had no motivation or drive to get out of the hole that you put yourself in.
Then I became homeless and realized how much more was involved: how much hurt and pain contributed to it, and how desperate the need was to escape that hurt and pain, and how bad my situation had really gotten. It was a very difficult reality to accept that I had turned into a lot of the things I thought about a homeless person, specifically having no drive or motivation to get out of the dark place I had fallen into.
I was truly hopeless. I was living out of my car and just passing the time until the bar opened, hoping to have enough money to numb myself to get through the night, day after day. I never flew a sign because I was too ashamed and embarrassed to do so, thinking that was the final step to turn into the perfect stereotype of the lazy, addicted, worthless, homeless failure of a human being.
After my car got towed and I had no other option at all, I walked from the bar to the Union Gospel Mission. I went in thinking that it was going to be a “barely care” place, somewhere that does just enough to call themselves a shelter and say that they are helping people, and to continue to get funding.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Three quality meals a day, a warm bed with an actual mattress, not a mat on the floor, and a staff that genuinely cares and wants to help. A staff that is the same whether they are on the clock or off, and that sees beyond the bad situation you are in to the person you are and who you can become, how you can heal with just one good break that you need.
This place has changed my entire perception of both homelessness and Christianity. I used to call myself an agnostic and say, “I believe in God and that’s all I need.” I used to think all Christians were hypocrites, and now I am a believer and see what real Christians are like.
Now I see just how much a homeless person can struggle with. They are not just addicts and convicts. Anyone can end up like I was. And the perception of homelessness like the one I had can make it even harder for someone to get out of it and back on their feet.
So if you see someone who is struggling, please don’t immediately judge them and write them off. You don’t have to give them money, all they may need is some food or water, a kind word or two, or even just acknowledge that they are a human being, not a piece of trash. That can lift them up enough to start to make a change like I did.
Tami: Mental health matters
I feel that these people have had a hard knock life and don’t know where else to turn. Plenty of them are homeless because they have mental health issues, and for most there is no help or housing for the mentally ill. But do they even have the mental capacity and ability to choose being housed over being homeless?
I know that for me I had nowhere else to turn and my mom and dad had passed away, so personally I turned to drugs and alcohol. I am proud to say that I am going through the Union Gospel Mission program and will soon be living in my own home. Thank you, God!!!
Elizabeth: Broken hearts
When I was homeless for ten days, I thought life would be so much easier if I could just hold onto a job for more than a day. I wish the people in community would understand that behind the “homeless” title, there is a life story filled with trauma.
I met a homeless man who had told me his story. He shared the loss of his son with me and I thought, “No wonder he’s on the streets and not working.” He didn’t need a job – he needed comfort for his broken heart. Homeless people are someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s mother or father.
Homeless people are still human beings who deserve to live a full life like everyone else. Like me, they just need some help getting there.
Shelley: Strong people, hard times
Until 4 years ago, I thought homelessness was by choice: people who didn’t want to work and stay on drugs. This all changed for me after an accident left me unable to return home and I ended up at a women’s crisis shelter.
There, I met many women of all walks of life that had been through hard times. We ended up sleeping in the same room, eating from the same table and getting to know each other’s stories. We were all facing our own battles, whether it was drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, or like myself a senseless accident.
I grew to love and appreciate these women, and we became each other’s cheerleaders. I have since moved on to a long-term program where I am able to work through many of the changes that have transpired in my life since my accident.
I often get to see these women, and it is nice to catch up on how they are doing. Not all of it is positive, but they push on. These are some of the strongest women I have ever met. I’m certain if you ask, they would not choose being homeless over having a stable job and a safe place to call home.
Tonight, 300 people just like these seven people will stay at UGM – just a fraction of those experiencing homelessness right here in our community. This World Homeless Day, will you give to provide a safe place and an opportunity for permanent change?