The Tidewater Area of Virginia where I grew up in is mostly middle class. There were times while driving at the ocean front and in Downtown Norfolk, that I’d see a homeless person pushing their shopping cart full of all they had. I’d catch myself thinking about this country we live in, and how tired I was of hearing people’s excuses. I didn’t understand how anyone in America could be jobless, or even homeless. I was naive and could never relate.
My mother has always been involved in many outreach groups that helped the less fortunate. I never saw the importance of her spending so much time there. Then one weekend, she invited me and my friends to join her at one of her meetings. I assumed this would be one of those inspirational talks about stopping war, or the next protest plan, but I was wrong. We walked into a small building that looked like an old post office, with a lobby-like room filled with these exhausted and filthy people. It was easy to see, from their clothing to their little push carts filled with plastic bags of clothes, that they were all homeless, at least a hundred of them.
Our job for that night was help wash any clothes they had, provide a meal, and an opportunity for them to shower for the few nights they were allowed to stay. They all seemed so embarrassed and full of shame that they barely used manners. I felt so guilty for looking at them like animals that had been abused. My friends and I tried not to stare and decided to ignore the fact that there were so many homeless people there, until someone said under their breath, “See, they don’t even want to look at us.” We couldn’t win either way.
I began talking with one woman. Her children were with her and she looked more normal than the others, except for her bruises. She wasn’t a lazy person who gave up on her life and let her money situation get out of control. Instead, she came from a well off household, her husband bringing in the money as she stayed home taking care of the children. But she was being abused physically, and finally built up the strength to get out without her husband ever knowing. In her situation, the shelter got more involved and offered her to stay as long as she needed, also helping her receive legal help.
Up until this moment, I never could understand why people in America, with as much as were are provided and offered, could be homeless. And to think this was only one story out of hundreds of people in that building, which was in part a small portion of the thousands in America also homeless.
I believe the only resolution will be a genuine compassion and understanding from those well enough off, to reach out and provide for those, that sometimes had no prevention to be homeless.
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