Denise Gaska recently shared this reflection with us regarding homelessness. It is worth a read. Please take some time to reflect on homelessness, what your thoughts on it are and how you can be part of the solution. Thanks for sharing with us Denise!

“The worst part about being homeless is the way people look at you. They look at you like you have a disease. Like you’re all a bunch of drug addicts or alcoholics. They don’t know me. They don´t know what my life has been like,¨ one of our PADS guests said as I sat with him while he ate dinner tonight. He arrives at the shelter after 11:30 each night because he has a job out of town. ¨They judge you and they know nothing about you,”

I think people have a tough time grappling with the idea of homelessness. We live in the land of plenty, and currently we have very low unemployment rates. Often our relative affluence, and maybe some of the guilt we feel over those blessings, causes us to look for a reason why our fellow human beings are suffering the way they are. It's a natural response to any tragedy. When someone dies, especially if they are young, it causes us to ask, "Why?" Which often carries an unspoken guilt, as in, "Why them and not me?" We are comforted by logic and order.  If we can make sense of tragedy, understand the pitfalls that lead to tragedy, we can avoid it in our own lives, right? Doesn't it make sense then, that our need for reason and order in the face of tragedy would cause us to look critically at people who are experiencing homelessness and ask, "Why?"

Unfortunately, it seems people think they can pinpoint the cause of homelessness in someone's life based on the superficial symptoms they see.  I heard it as I entered the shelter tonight, "They keep wanting to go outside to smoke, although I don't know how they can afford to smoke..." I'm not suggesting that the volunteer was blaming our guests’ current state of homelessness on smoking. But there did seem to be some implied criticism of their life choices. Whenever we criticize the bad behavior or poor choices of those experiencing homelessness, perhaps it helps us believe we can insulate ourselves from the likelihood that we could become homeless. After all, we're not making those poor choices, whether it's smoking, drinking, drug use, or disruptive behavior, etc. Therefore, surely we are protected against that tragic outcome. While it’s true those choices may be part of the reason someone has become homeless, usually those choices are just the tip of the iceberg on a host of reasons and life experiences that have led that person to make those poor choices.

Let's consider "Why," again, but this time, instead of looking at the poor choices, or symptoms of the problem, let’s consider the root of the problem. Studies have shown that anywhere from 16-40% of individuals experiencing homeless were diagnosed with a learning disability while in school. For other individuals, mental health issues cause some to self-medicate with the use of alcohol or drugs. For still others, a childhood filled with physical or emotional abuse or neglect from parents has lead to an endless cycle of self-destruction. And, for some, they are just going through a “bit of bad luck.” Really, the list of potential issues that lead to homelessness are vast.

Instead of wasting time and energy trying to figure out how/why someone became homeless (in a futile effort to at least mentally spare ourselves of the same outcome),  a more fruitful endeavor would be to ask, “Why not me?” And, the answer is it could be you. “There but for the grace of God go I.” A bit of bad luck that stretches beyond a few paychecks could land many of us into the lap of homelessness. 78% of full-time workers say they live paycheck to paycheck. If not you, maybe a friend, neighbor or relative could easily end up in this predicament. If that were the case, how would you want to be treated? How would you want your friend or relative to be viewed in the eyes of society?

As someone who has experienced tragedy at a relatively young age, one thing it taught me was that sometimes the answer to the question, “Why?” is that there is no good answer. As much as we would like reason and logic to  prevail in this world, it doesn’t. Bad stuff happens. And, for some people, they get more than their fair share of bad stuff. Outside of losing your life or the life of a loved one, there really isn’t much more pain and punishment a person can go through in life than being homeless. Really, think about it. Can you imagine not knowing where your next meal will come from? Can you imagine carrying everything you own in your car, or on your back? Can you imagine not having a door to walk through at the end of a long hard day that leads to the place we all want to be most...home?

For those of us who have been blessed with a fully developed body and brain when we were born, parents who loved and cared for us and the good fortune to have steady employment, instead of pointing to the shortcomings in the lives of the homeless and relishing in the fact that we have made better choices, let’s give thanks for our blessings by sharing a little of our time and treasure with those who need it most...please help Grundy Area PADS.