Phillip and I were out running about yesterday. It wasn’t so humid, wasn’t too hot, so we grabbed our bikes and went to get supplies. Yarn, poly fill, boxes, groceries….We hit Joann’s first, and on our way back, rode through Colonial Plaza to run into Staples and Hobby Lobby. I saw about 5 homeless guys lingering about. I see them often and have learned to hold my heart tight. Then we headed to Publix and I saw 3 more sitting outside. And as we moved towards home, I noticed another 3 or 4 more walking down Colonial. But, the clincher was when we decided to hit the library. (Been looking for Thomas Merton books-harder to find than I thought). We passed through Lake Eola on the way and the entire park was filled to near capacity of homeless men. And outside the library, probably a good 10 more. Then, inside the library, practically every chair was filled with another one. By all estimates it seemed throughout our day we had seen more than 50 (50!) homeless men in a one mile square area. 50!
Now, keep in mind I made notice of how other people reacted. They behaved as though they didn’t see them. As though they didn’t even exist. These men were no more impressive than street signs or shrubbery…..or a floating piece of discarded trash, hovering close to the curb and gutter. And then I saw some reacting with disdain, clearly sneering with a word bubble over their head as they turned up their noses as if to say, “There are too many for my liking.” And that same phrase popped into my head. But, for such a different reason. Yes, there are far too many for my liking. Does anyone else not see how MANY homeless there are in this one square mile? Don’t you find that incredibly strange? There is a real problem here!
I see them often, I notice them daily, but it’s usually only 1 to 4. Nothing more. And I lower my head and think, “I can’t help you right now, buddy. But, I will be able to someday soon. I promise you. I’ll be able to help someday soon.” However, I have NEVER seen more than 50 in a day and in such a small area. What happened? Did it happen overnight? Or was it gradual? One more person made homeless per day….And what happens now? What do we do?
The mayor of Orlando is announcing his budget today. Included is a huge chunk of money to help combat homelessness in Orlando. But, what does that mean? Combat how? More shelters? More programs? That doesn’t work as much as prevention. Homelessness is a symptom to a much deeper problem. And it must be taken case by case. Some of those guys are addicts. Some are mentally ill. Some slid into debt and expenses like they hit an oil patch, couldn’t hold on, and just collided with real life. So, we can’t just treat this problem AFTER it’s happened, it must be dealt with well before it has someone on the streets.
We, as individuals with kind hearts are the ones that must do that. We shouldn’t wait for government programs. We shouldn’t wait to see a man sleeping on a bench, or a woman crouched beside her shopping cart. That’s too late. We offer kindness, assistance, hope, prayer, and yes, money.
I was asked recently if I had any advice for someone about to face homelessness and I erupted with, “If I knew someone headed that direction, there is NO WAY I would let it happen. I’d offer a space on my floor, share my meals with them, do something, anything to keep that from happening. I could not IMAGINE knowing someone about to become homeless and simply ALLOW it to happen and THEN offer advice.”
We are a good hearted species. We don’t allow things to happen, then correct them. We prevent them from happening first, with our understanding and our prayers and our selflessness.
Someday I will be able to do something. For myself? It starts with teddy bears. I’ve always wanted to be successful financially so I could a lot more philanthropic. I would pay back to the good world what it has blessed me with. I may not be able to help now, but I can surely write about it. Discuss it when I can, and bring attention to the need for prevention, rather than a cure. And never forget, when it comes to the human soul, human needs, not one size fits all. People are individuals, each with their own hearts and minds in need of a greater compassion that comes from a true understanding of who that individual is, and what pains them distinctly.
We should remember that before we start grouping them into a category as simple as “The Homeless.”
This is the story of how I knit my way out of homelessness. To order an autographed copy of “Will Knit For Food” click here, or for a Limited Edition personalized, signed paperback copy with t-shirt, click here.
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