Skip to content

Invisible

November 20, 2016
A homeless man outside the UN in New York, Author/Source CGP Grey (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

A homeless man outside the UN in New York City, Author/Source CGP Grey (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

We have learned to ignore them:  the homeless.  Fixtures on every street corner.  Present but, for all practical purposes, invisible.

Population Size

On any given night there are over a half million Americans sleeping on the streets [1].  Slightly under half those are homeless families. Approximately 50,000 are veterans (down from a high of 76,000 in 2010).

About 15% of the total are chronically homeless.

Contributing Factors

“…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in…” (Matt. 25: 35).

The problem of homelessness is complex.

A significant percentage of the homeless will, when questioned, reveal that they were abused.

A large number are children, made homeless along with their parents.  This creates issues involving child safety and child custody, with fear of losing their children hanging like a sword of Damocles over the heads of homeless parents.

Veterans (both male and female) are at higher risk of homelessness than the general population [3].

A. Affordable Housing

And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’ “ (Matt. 8:20).

One factor contributing to homelessness is the lack of affordable housing.

Some 12 million renters and homeowners spend over 50% of their income on housing alone [2].  “…a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States [3].”

The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers 30% of monthly income the upper limit a household can devote toward housing without compromising on other essentials (food, clothing, transportation, and medical attention).  The households spending more are at risk for homelessness.  Over 450,000 veteran households fall into this category, teetering on the edge [6].

For those already homeless, shelters are often seen as a last resort.  Shelters have limited availability, and may be perceived as too dangerous.  In rural areas, services are even more scarce.  There the poor, if they can, cope by moving perpetually from one friend or relation to another.

B. Mental Illness

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5: 5).

In the USA homelessness is further complicated by mental illness.

As long ago as the 1970s, the policy of de-institutionalisation began discharging mentally ill men and women to the streets, without adequate medical support.  There were and are too few half-way houses.   Community opposition (“not in my backyard”), and limited funding have played a role in this.

Emergency rooms (unable to house the homeless and ill equipped to treat their long-term health conditions) and police “drunk tanks” have absorbed the brunt.

C. Government Benefits

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3: 17).

Mental illness and the lack of a mailing address keep many homeless from receiving the welfare and/or disability benefits for which they may be eligible.  Those challenges, also, keep the homeless from voting.

D. Employment Obstacles

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11: 28).

Even without mental illness, however, the homeless seeking employment face major obstacles.  Basic hygiene is one.  A shower is a link to the working world.  Its absence is keenly felt.  Public restrooms are a poor substitute.

The homeless sleep on steam grates; in bus terminals, heated ATM lobbies, subway stations, and all-night laundromats.  To escape the elements, a handful In New York City actually do live underground, in abandoned subway tunnels [7].

Related to this is the issue of presentable clothing.  Living on the streets, wearing the same clothes, day in and day out, shreds fabric along with dignity.  Exposure causes physical ailments like frostbite, as well.

Then there is the issue of identification.  Again, the absence of a mailing address poses a formidable challenge.  Legitimate employers are unlikely to hire those who cannot readily demonstrate their citizenship or document their whereabouts for the past few years.

Precious

” ‘Is this not the fast that I have chosen…to share your bread with the hungry, And…bring to your house the poor who are cast out…’ ” (Isaiah 58: 6-7)

Homeless men and women are precious in God’s sight.  They are not invisible to Him.

We must ask God to lend us His eyes, His heart, that we, too, may see.  For the real difficulty with homelessness is not invisibility.  It is blindness.

[1]  National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Snapshot of Homelessness”, 2015, http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/snapshot_of_homelessness.

[2][6]  Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF), “Veteran Homelessness Facts”, 2016, http://www.dvnf.org/veteran-homelessness-facts/?gclid=CjwKEAjw19vABRCY2YmkpO2OzTsSJAAzEt8svJBC2YGKHhNlL4EKEYr8I00s26kHQX_R7__zbHSHlRoC8Ojw_wcB.

[3]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Risk of Homelessness Among US Veterans” by J. Fargo, S. Metraux, T. Byrne et al, 2012,  https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2012/11_0112.htm.

[4][5]  National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Frequently Asked Questions”, 2016,  http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/faqs#why.

[7]  Narratively, “The Truth about New York’s Legendary ‘Mole People’ ” by Anthony Taille, 10/29/15, http://narrative.ly/the-truth-about-new-yorks-legendary-mole-people/.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse http://www.avoicereclaimed.com

46 Comments
  1. When I was in NYC, it broke my heart the way people just stepped over homeless folks or ignored them in and on the subway. One woman was begging for a sip of water and crying. I handed her my water bottle and change. A couple of passengers berated me by letting me know what a problem and nuisance homelessness was, so the ‘bums’ needed to be ignored enough to go away. I have never, ever forgotten the tears and cries of that woman and the way people rolled their eyes and put a newspaper in front of their faces. It has never been in me to just ‘step over’ a fellow human being. I wish the homeless population was addressed with more care and concern.

    • The prevalence of homelessness was one of the reasons I left NYC. I could no longer bear the striking contrast between upscale shops, and the homeless men and women on their doorsteps. Not that NYC is unique. There is rural poverty, just as there is urban. That should break our hearts.

      • When I lived in Phoenix, there was an entire community of homeless folks scattered in the desert brush or in certain areas of the busy parts of the city. It is sad that this is such an issue in this country. But, a lot of addiction, mental illness, abuse, etc., etc. is at the root of a lot of the cases.

    • How awful that people should treat other people like this Shattered. This breaks my heart to read this. I feel so sad for homeless people and I also think that that person could so easily be me. There’s such a fine line between having a home and losing everything. Having been nearly homeless in my late teens (having been thrown out on the streets by my father), I don’t say this lightly. Luckily we could stop with relatives, but imagine if that had not been the case? Truly awful!

  2. I had substantial contacts with homeless folks in Little Rock when I was in college. My wife and I lived near the capitol building where the railroad ran through town. There was a pretty good population of homeless living in the railroad green belt along there. Hobos, really, in the real sense of the word.

    Sadly, not all of the contact was really positive. They would often take up residence in the abandoned house next door to us. They simply did not always behave as good citizens. There seemed to always be strife and even violence among them. In fact, the man who was sort of the seeming “head” of the little group was apparently killed by some of the others. I know that because I am the one who found him dead in the woods near the house while walking my dog.

    You know, Anna, I grew up in some pretty serious urban poverty myself. I have a hard time speaking to this whole issue really. I’m not much of a fan of huge government programs to get rid of this and other problems. That seems to have a proven history of just perpetuating a culture of dependence. I am also a huge fan of personal responsibility. I clawed tooth and nail to get out of the quagmire I was in. But…sometimes people need a helping hand.

    I do think we as individuals, and even churches, need to be way more active in reaching out to those who have needs. We are called to do that, and yet so many sit around condemning assistance programs while a the same time doing absolutely nothing to actually help another person.

    One time I was listening to a friend harp on it..and finally just asked him:

    “If they gave you the part of your tax money that they use to help those who need help back to you…..what would you do with it?”

    The irony here is that not much after that, the fellow lost his job, and live on unemployment for almost 6 months.

    Ok vent done, and good morning to you!

    • Vent anytime, Wally. I agree w/ you. Government programs can never be the whole answer. What we do not see are the cumulative scars that drove the homeless to this wretched place in their lives. Only Christ can heal those. They include drug addicted mothers, absent fathers, inadequate schools, lack of available jobs, racial bias, substance abuse, personal tragedy, and the trauma that is poverty, itself. You managed to claw your way out. Not all do.

      We are Christ’s hands. What are we doing about this? What would He want us to do? Those are the questions we have to ask ourselves.

      • I like to think, if we are full of the Spirit, then any time we reach out to help, we are allowing the Spirit to flow out and, perhaps, the healing ointment can be spread on some of the roots so that healing can begin. That is how I try to see it every time I make the choice to help someone or not. Am I allowing God’s love to flow out of me onto others or am I hoarding His blessings and keeping them to myself?

    • Hi Wally, I am interested in the ones who choose poverty, almost always for spiritual reasons. To give up earthly desires and the “needs” of the middle class folk to rely solely on God’s provision, knowing that what they’ve done by their own wills will help alleviate the sorrows of others and live a harmonious existence with the planet as well. We need to have greater awareness of those who choose to do this for the sake of others; who say ‘no’ to inequality derived from economic competitiveness; who say God is sovereign, nothing else. What if it were possible to show those of us living in poverty how blessed we truly were?

      • Hi Isosceles

        Just some thoughts on this. Interesting. That is fascinating, to ponder those who would give up everything to simply put their focus on God. In almost all ways, He asks that of us all I suppose, as we are to pick up our own cross and follow Him.

        Beyond that, I think you and I diverge some, so I hope I can state it without seeming disagreeable.

        The folks we are talking about here didn’t give up anything; they don’t have anything. These are folks who desperately want to no longer be trapped in the poverty, abuse, crime, drugs, and so forth they are trapped in. This is not honorable for them, it is awful.

        One person giving up everything is not going to actually help another, if all they do is give it all up. It’s kind of like when my Mom would make me eat all of my dinner because of “all the starving kids in China.” Whether I ate food or not was not going to accomplish anything real for those kids.

        “inequality derived from economic competitiveness”

        Not with you there, sorry. Economic competition builds wealth, and that is in fact what gives some of us the [financial means to help others]. Get rid of competition, all the wealth goes away. Then, we are ALL poor.

        The real issue is that those of us who have been blessed with ability and assets reach out in real ways to those who cannot help themselves.

        Just my thoughts on this.

        🙂

      • Thanks very much, Wally. Well said. My note in brackets, by the way. Just finished your thought for clarity’s sake. Hope you don’t mind.

      • Nope it was quite perfect . I appreciate it

        😉

  3. Monochrome nightmares permalink

    I do so agree Anna.
    The homeless are just ignored.
    Poverty is in abundance through out the world.
    Below, is part of a poem I wrote last year, entitled Homeless.

    They go hungry
    we have plenty.
    Our eyes shine bright
    theirs are empty.
    Let them starve
    collapse and die.
    Just bury them deep
    and walk on by.

  4. Reblogged this on Shattered in Him and commented:
    As we officially enter into the holiday season, I wanted to address an area that can become quite ignored with all of the busyness and spending…homelessness. There are a lot of hurting people out there with no families, no warm covers, and no hot meal. The following blogger was able to articulate this issue and I needed to share.

  5. Great post! As it starts getting colder in the Northern states, more and more homeless people appear on the streets of South Florida. On the cusp of the holiday season, it is especially tragic to see!

  6. Great post and comments. I applaud those who can get out on their own. I received government help that was greatly appreciated because of my struggle with mental illness. Many of us lack compassion for the poor because we don’t think through the issue. Much light was shed on it however by this post and comments. For a possible solution to poverty that is within our reach I invite you to go to: http://www.theopentable.org/

  7. Great post.. Where I live there is heroin epidemic.. and it tends to create a lot of homeless situations.. but what amazes me is many states have made it illegal to feed the homeless.. they try to use the guise of “food safety” but I am sorry.. many eat out of dumpsters.. I am sure my PB&J would be just fine! My heart goes out to the homeless.. I wanted to bulk buy emergency blankets that the RC uses.. but no one was interested in joining in.. many have died in winter and I pray God would keep them warm..

    • As individuals, we can feel so helpless. Still, it is better to light a candle, than curse the darkness. Do not lose heart, Mary Ann. If your PB&J can feed a single hungry soul, your effort has not been wasted. Even when we are prevented from distributing food, God is aware of our intentions. May He bless you for your compassion. ❤

  8. Great post, can relate. I was so, twice in my life. Quite an adventure, like going back to kindergarten, subjected to the machinery which moves a living entity. True, identity is lost. Mental and emotional stability is lost. Yet I must confess, for some there is some positive gain, in contrast. One thing learned is that proof that no one prestigious person wants to be affiliated with this is that all those in charge turn out to be graduated ones, previously homeless. They mismanage power, deprive the lower rung of donated goods, they get dibs on stuff which is sincerely heartfelt donated. Saw the aforesaid firsthand, can site.
    Thanks for this post.

    • Thank you, Miguel. I have known more than one person who was homeless at some point in their lives. But you bring firsthand insight to the problem. May God watch over you.

      • Thank you, dear. Most especially for your blessing. And thanks for your generous visit.

  9. It’s all so overwhelming, depressing–the whole fallen world. And I have issues with government-subsidized housing…even as I live in such a property. Obviously, it’s better than being on the street–but it’s not perfect by a long shot. I don’t know what the answers are…”Come Lord Jesus, Soon!” God bless you abundantly each and every day, Anna ❤

    • Yes, the size of our problems can be daunting. But God is greater. May He bless and protect you always, Delyn. ❤

      • Remembering that “our God is greater” and Bigger–as I wrote in my upcoming Wednesday blog-church post–is sometimes all we’ve got to hang onto 🙂 More prayers and hugs sent your way, Anna ❤

      • I’ll keep an eye out for the post, Delyn. Your story about Tim will be running here. I hope your own situation will be resolved soon. ❤

      • Thank you very much, Anna ❤

  10. This is a very powerful article Anna, thank you. We needed to hear it.

  11. Reblogged this on Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit and commented:
    As a Veteran my greatest fear with my rent ever increasing is joining the ranks of the Homeless I see on the subways every day. It only takes the loss of one paycheck to be out on the cold brutal New York Streets!!

  12. It was difficult to decide to hit “like” on this post – there is nothing to like about it, actually, except for your courage in posting it.

    If I had more time, I’d respond to every heartfelt comment on this page. Since I don’t, let me leave a prayer that those of us with empathy and heart will be enough to protect each other from what’s probably coming in January: management by the 1% — the privileged unenlightened who have NO experience with the fall-out of economic struggles — and little belief that it is not “enabling” to feed, clothe and house people who are shivering, hungry, ill and homeless.

    GOD HELP US ALL!
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    • I share your concerns about the incoming Administration. Government is not though the only vehicle through which we can reach out to one another. Hopefully, those of us w/ a conscience will seek out other means to aid our less fortunate brothers and sisters. May God help us in that endeavor.

  13. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and compassionate blog. I am a homeless woman surviving the streets of Los Angeles. I always appreciate when someone who is not homeless can empathize with our plight.

  14. I have been one of the many and felt the stares and judgements on me. Now I want to document what I see in my community and show others that these are your brothers and sisters. They are not throw away people . I am not a particularly religious person in the biblical sense. I found Buddhism on the streets for self preservation and clarity but I have found my love for these forgotten ones strikes something in my heart and I want to document so people can look beyond their unkept clothes and see them.

    • I applaud your efforts, Lisa. You may not know God, but He knows you. Your heart for the poor is a reflection of God’s own. The Bible is filled with verses urging us to care for those less fortunate. Compassion is an essential quality of the Woman of Virtue described in the Book of Proverbs. “She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy” (Prov. 31: 20). It may well be that your experience on the streets, difficult as it was, gives you special insight into the problem of homelessness and increased sensitivity to the needs of the homeless. ❤

  15. Soooo amazing I high five you for this. A wide topic rarely discussed

  16. Reblogged this on James Davie.

  17. Great post I have been traveling around the United States for the last 5 years teaching communities and finding homeless giving them new socks while engaging in conversations so I am happy to see others out there also doing great work. Thank you Tom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: