Luke Holm earned bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.
The Reality of Homelessness
Every person I meet teaches me some lesson or perspective about life. They are a counterpoint from which I can evaluate and understand my own journey. Whether the person is old and ragged, middle-aged and determined, or young and helpless, I recognize my connection to them as a human family. My heart goes out to them, and I desperately want to help.
Many of these people have jobs, families, and children. Sometimes these people move from house to house, sleeping on couches and floors where they can be found. Some of the people I've met are friendly, some are grumpy, and others are dangerous. Some are sane, while others are complete lunatics. Some have been homeless all their life, while others are new to the street.
Regardless of their circumstance or how I met them, the moment my life started to coexist with these people was the moment my world was changed forever.
Sitting in a Box: A Haiku
Sitting in a box
a cold, hungry, beggar boy
alone in the world.
What Is a home?
A home is more than a house or building which people sleep in. A home is a place of support, love, and tender care. A home is a safe haven from the outside world. It is our roots, where and how we were raised. While a home is a dwelling, it also so much more. It is a place where people are cared for and feel welcome. It is a feeling which some are excluded from. While a home is not limited to a single place or space, it is not available to all if they are willing to accept it.
Causes of Homelessness
Homelessness has been a social issue since the dawn of humanity. Outcasts from society, these pariahs struggle for survival in the shadow of a fast-paced world. Whether these people are down on their luck, lost their worth in a disaster of some sort, are mentally unstable, are addicted to drugs, or just have no place to go, the fact remains that they are still humans.
While there are many reasons for homelessness, history has shown large influxes of homeless people after revolutions, wars, and natural disasters. The change, addiction, and trauma created from these instances displaces people and causes them to give up on a brighter future. When this occurs, many times, people resort to homelessness in a sort of weary traveler or vagabond mentality.
During and after the Industrial Revolution, people flocked to the cities in search of work. When they arrived, they found a completely different environment than the rural lifestyle they and their family were accustomed to. Working conditions were harsh, long, and resulted in low wages. The deplorable conditions and struggle for money in the midst of the huge influx of a new work force resulted in a lack of affordable housing. Multiple families were forced to live under the same roof. Food was scarce. Money was tight. Not everyone could support themselves, which resulted in a large portion (approximately 20-30%) of the population to find shelter elsewhere, typically in alleyways, cold corners, and on the streets.
Another cause for drastic change in a person's life is war. Wars are known to wreck a person's psyche, increase the chances of drug addiction, and displace people from the real world. For example, the Civil War was the first time the drug morphine became available to the public as a pain medication. From the 1870s-1890s, morphine and syringes could be purchased from magazines legally. Another example of war-induced drug addiction is found in those who fought in the Vietnam War. These men turned to drugs to dull the pain of death and loneliness that they felt on a moment to moment basis.
Finally, people become homeless because of natural disasters. Natural disasters destroy homes, displacing individuals and families without providing solutions to the alternative. In such chaotic times, when people are forced to flee quickly, part of society crumbles, causing the victims of such disasters to slap together a life in the matter of moments, rather than the lifetime it took to build up what they once had. This dilapidated lifestyle is one that is difficult to come back from. Many times, people can't recover and end up living on the streets.
While there are many reasons for homelessness, none should be an excuse for the rest of society to allow these people to fall victim to the streets. These people need our help. They need recognition and understating. They need a home in the truest sense of the word.
The Inhuman Planet
When I went to earth, all that I found
were hordes of the homeless, just lying around.
Tattered old cloth on malnourished bones
were garments of those who didn't have homes.
They were wasted on benches and crapping in pots,
shunned by the public and tossed in cold lots.
They carried spare parts, old odds and ends--
company for those without any friends.
How could humans watch people decay,
allow them to fail and live in dismay?
I quickly left that terrible planet
filled full of beings who took life for granted.
Nowhere else in the entire galaxy
does a species deny such societal fallacy.
It's unnatural to have so much prosperity
in a dichotomous society supporting depressing polarity.
When did this division become commonplace?
When did humans become such an inhuman race?
How could they let this sadness survive?
Either end their suffering or help them to thrive!
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Seeing Beyond the Dirt
Before moving to California, my interactions with homeless people were few and far between. I often found that I had prejudice toward the homeless; judging them and making assumptions that jumped to stereotypical conclusions I subconsciously absorbed from society.
I thought they wanted my money for beer or drugs. I thought they chose their life of homelessness. I couldn't see past the dirt. Even if I learned the person's story, I would oftentimes partially discredit it as fabricated or completely disregard it as a lie. I thought they were after my hard-earned money and nothing else. I didn't see them as human.
Now, I know better. I've talked to enough people to recognize that they did not choose their situation. Many were displaced after the Vietnam War. Many were abandoned by families, had their houses destroyed in floods, or just came into hard financial times.
Most of the people I've spoken to have jobs, but the jobs don't pay enough for them to afford a house or apartment. Many of these people have children that they have to balance with this job. Without the help of family or friends, there is little these people can do to pull themselves out of the muck and quagmire society allowed them to fall into. They are stuck and don't know how to escape.
This Side of the Tracks
What do we do, when they fill up the streets--
holding out hands and longing their eyes
for something we have and refuse to share?
They are my friends.
I pass them every day.
Some are nicer than others.
Do we feed them?
Our money will help them consume.
We worry they'll abuse without us.
They are trying,
going to work and buying food,
perhaps choosing such a life.
Do we house them?
We are an ocean, waves deluded,
thinking we own this and that.
Housed in tents,
sleeping on rocks,
their belongings are riddled with holes.
How long will we watch them
before we notice, in desperation,
that they are our children?
Risking collision for need and want,
they brave stampeding traffic
for five or six cents.
I've given money. I've smiled and waved,
made meaningful conversations,
but always I wonder,
How did I end up on this side of the tracks?
America's Homeless Crisis
Helping Our Brothers and Sisters
Glazing over sidelong glances of emaciated men and women propel throngs of sadness within my soul. I wonder what I can do for these people. How can I help?
Tarnished clothing, begging eyes, and bony limbs ache with the thought of freedom. To them, freedom means a night’s sleep among the living. They are rarely granted such wishes.
The homeless are a reflection of the society they live in. Now, it's 2017 and the reflection isn't very pretty. How long until we see these people as our brothers and sisters in humanity? We are together on this planet.
We must be of service to others, or hide in fear from ourselves.
When Night Turns to Day: A Folktale
There is a story about an old Hasidic rabbi and his pupils. He asked them how they could tell exactly when the night had ended and the day began (daybreak was the time for certain holy prayers).
"Is it when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?" one student proposed.
"No," answered the rabbi.
"Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell if it is a fig or a pear tree?"
"No," answered the rabbi each time.
"Then, when is it?" the pupils demanded.
"It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that they are your sister or brother. Until then, it is still night."
- Thomas Nagel's Non-Interference and the Meaning of Maya
Why are we here? When others play the victim, do we adopt the hero? In this story, I come face-to-face with some of the harsher aspects of our reality, homelessness and gut-wrenching depression.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2017 JourneyHolm