This viewpoint is in response to Brian Miller’s piece in The Tribune on Sept. 18. Brian makes some excellent points, and I welcome any and all attention to the homeless population in our community.
Brian is correct when he states that “there are countless citizens who put their hearts into making our homeless population as comfortable as possible. But they don’t speak to the media.” I consider myself one of those who believe that actions speak louder than words and put in hundred of hours and dollars into solving our local homeless problem.
It is true that there are many of us, and we do not speak to the media, instead quietly going about serving the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. This letter is my attempt to provide the viewpoint of a mere soldier in the homelessness battle.
Unfortunately, I suspect that the media may only be interested in the contentious issues related to homelessness. Conflict and sensationalism is what sells in the media world, not the quiet work of (as Brian’s article states) a “nobody” like me. The homelessness volunteers who I know are humble servants and not publicity seekers, so it’s no wonder that nobody hears from them.
My personal philosophy regarding homelessness is that in our relatively affluent American society, we should be able to house and feed all people in our communities — period. I believe this and work toward achieving that goal, but it should be the goal of every one of us. Most volunteers believe that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” This term is used by both believers and nonbelievers in God to mean that “it could be me or a loved one of mine.” When I am forgoing a fun activity or trip in order to help a person in need, I keep this in mind. If I were in that situation, I would hope that there would be somebody out there to care about me in my hour of greatest need.
I have volunteered for more than 10 years in working with the homeless, primarily with two CAPSLO programs: the Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless overflow program, and the Prado “Warming Station” program. The overflow program consists of 11 churches and one synagogue that provide overnight shelter for the homeless CAPSLO clients, providing up to 35 homeless people with a safe clean place to sleep for the night. Each religious facility offers services for a single month, with the 12 organizations thus covering all 365 days per year. A combined effort between CAPSLO and the individual church or synagogue, the overflow provides a relief shelter in a cost-effective manner to the homeless community.
In addition, I provide support to two or three homeless people whom I have met on the street and who are not in the CAPSLO program.
I mention my experience only to establish that I have some credibility in working to help the homeless in any way I can. I am not a psychologist, or a doctor, or a social worker but am just a “regular old person” who wants to help as best I can. During these 10 years, I have also run a local business and raised two children who are both in college.
Many people say they are too busy to help, but its really just a matter of personal priorities and occasionally sacrificing some free time that you otherwise might have spent going to the movies or watching TV or whatever.
We are all in this together, and homelessness is everyone’s problem. We, as fellow humans, must act, and that is exactly what many people I know are doing today — now. We are not waiting for a government program or business to help.
About 10 years ago, I decided to resign from all the nonprofit boards that I was on and instead provide “hands-on” work to the various causes that I support, such as homelessness. I decided that the time for talking about problems was over for me and that the time for doing something about them was now. There are numerous things that an ordinary person can do to help. However, homelessness is a complex problem, and the details of how to help are beyond the scope of a letter to a newspaper.
Some ways to get started include:
Donating money to homeless support service organizations;
Calling a homeless support organization (examples: CAPSLO, Food Bank, Sunny Acres, etc.) and ask how you can help;
When you see a homeless person, treating them as a real person, and not as somebody you see right through. If you have a few minutes (and you are in a safe, public location), stop and talk to them like you might to any other person; just being treated with respect and dignity might make their day;
Talking to your friends and family about what you are doing to help, and encouraging them to get involved in any way, no matter how small — every little bit helps.
My goal in helping with the homeless situation is to be inclusive and not divisive. I hope that The Tribune’s readers see these words and get started “being a part of the solution.”
The writer manages Waag and Co. law firm and has volunteered with homelessness causes for more than 10 years.