I have been given this unique position to see people becoming homeless.
I get emails every day from all over the country crying for help.
Moms, dads, kids, pets. All being pushed out onto the street.
While the underlying factors of these stories are complicated, the actual cause is simple. Money. They ran out of money.
They lost a job. They don’t make enough money to pay their rent. They lost their utilities months ago. But now they can’t afford the rent of their apartment.
It’s not surprising. An entry level job at McDonald’s in Akron pays $8.15. They avoid giving you a full time job so they don’t have to pay insurance. So you are usually working less than 30 hours a week. Getting that job was a near act of God. So finding another job and arranging the two schedules is incredibly difficult.
So you’re making under $1000/month. Apartments start at about $650/month in Akron. (Although I know a guy who is renting his garage for $300/month if you want that.)
If you don’t pay for heat and electric and water (because you had them turned off) then you have $350 month for food, clothes, gas (if you have a car), bus fare, etc.
And this is just the story of the lucky person that actually has a job. If you don’t have a job then obviously you are on a sinking ship. It’s only a matter of time before you’re out on the street.
While I’m on the topic, let me point out that being “lazy” is rarely the reason people lose jobs. It’s a mental health issue. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bi-polar. These are fundamental reasons that lead to drug addiction and alcoholism. And together they compound and create a downward spiral.
I don’t believe anyone becomes a drug addict or alcoholic without first having a mental health issue. I say that coming to you as a former raging alcoholic.
My point is: becoming homeless is not difficult to do.
While it’s not surprising to me when I see recently successful people coming into our doors at Second Chance Village, it is crushingly surprising to these people.
The men look embarrassed and beaten. The women often are crying. Kids are quiet and scared. (Dogs are fine. They’re happy to get some dog food and pets.)
They are entering into a totally new world.
They don’t know how to be homeless. How do they get food? Where do they sleep? Will they be safe?
It’s terrifying and overwhelming. The slide into homelessness happens one day. Yesterday you were in a house. Today you have nowhere to go. That’s surreal.
Maybe it’s like dying. Just a minute ago you were on earth. And now you are in a new place. Is it heaven? Is it hell? Is it anything like you ever could imagine?
Imagine being blindfolded, thrown on a plane and then dropped off in some city in Afghanistan. You don’t speak the language. You don’t know the system. Are there terrorists? Are people going to help you? What will become of you?
This is what I can tell you: Everyone I’ve ever met who has experienced becoming homeless has adjusted just fine. No one I have ever met has died from being homeless. (Though I do know people who have died from opiates. But that’s another story.)
People are incredibly resilient and surprisingly adjustable. This ability is within every single one of us.
I feel very confident that I could take the most pampered socialite, have them lose everything, become homeless and do just fine.
There is a young, beautiful woman who stays with us off and on. I’m telling you she would fit right in at any liberal arts college campus. She’s smart. She’s kind. She’s attractive. She’s your daughter. She’s your niece.
I rarely ask people why they became homeless. I feel like it’s not my concern. All I care about is you right now and getting you to where you want to go tomorrow. So I don’t know why she’s homeless.
But this is what I do know: She and her husband sometimes fish for food. She has taken to digging on nearby riverbanks looking for old glassware. She has found the most interesting, old bottles. They are in perfect condition. She has lived all over the city in various illegal camps.
While I know she wants to not be homeless some day, I also know that she’s no longer scared to be outdoors. When I first met her she was terrified. She was always afraid to be in the woods. Her fear is gone. She has developed a sense of strength, faith and independence that most people will never develop.
Many people I talk to who have experienced homelessness tell me there are many positive characteristics they have learned being on the street.
They realize their things don’t define them. They say they would have no problem walking away from all their stuff again if they need to.
They tell me they will never live in a 3000 square foot house again. They will live in 1000 feet or less.
They tell me that they realize how valuable their relationships are. People are what is most important to them. Not things.
If you’ve never been in this situation you might not be able to truly internalize the fact that becoming homeless is not the end of the world. Living in your car is not the end of the world. Living in the woods is not the end of the world. It’s just a temporary stop in the road.
In fact, some people choose to live in their car or the woods instead of shelters. Sometimes they view the shelters as worse alternatives.
What I’m telling you is this: Many great thinkers and spiritual guides have told us to not be afraid. “No Fear” is even a popular motto today.
This is the truth. You have nothing to be afraid of. You are much more powerful and resilient than you probably can even imagine. There is a great strength within you that is laying dormant. You are ready for anything life throws at you.
And one more thing: Never EVER be ashamed that you don’t have money or you fall on hard financial times. People will likely judge you, I’m sorry to say. But they are assholes. You’ll quickly find out who are your real friends. I guarantee you have them. And you’ll make new ones. The best friends you’ll ever have are the ones you make and keep when you have nothing.