After the second or third polar vortex, I am getting tired of being inside, at home. But then I start thinking, that I must be grateful I have a home. There are, after all, many people, including families that are homeless.
When we were in Washington, school and offices closed due to a big winter storm. In the paper, we read about the homeless; families with children who lined up to get help in the cold only to find out the office for helping the homeless was closed due to the snow. Some of them ended up sleeping on the floor in churches.
Duluth has more than 900 homeless people and was the first city in the US to pass a homeless bill of rights, although many states do have such a bill. This bill of rights is meant to draw attention to the plight of the homeless. The plan is to have the Human Rights Commission of the city take an in-depth look at the problem of homelessness and to find solutions. There is talk of having homeless people on the commission.
One third of Duluth residents live below the poverty line and the number of people experiencing homelessness is on the rise. In fact, 45% more families asked for emergency shelter in 2013 than the year before. This is due in part to the decrease of affordable housing.
Who are the homeless? The shocking part is that many are children. People working with the homeless say that children who grow up homeless are much more likely to become homeless themselves as adults. Many homeless are mentally ill or chemically dependent, but that is not all. Some are just down on their luck, having lost their job and run out of money and they are vulnerable.
And we, the people who live in homes and are clean and well fed and sleep in warm beds, do not see the homeless even when they are in our midst. Bishop David Musselman of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City wanted to teach his parishioners about compassion and about not judging our neighbors too quickly. So he hired a make-up artist to help him disguise himself as a homeless man. So attired he went to church. Some people asked him to leave, but most people just ignored him and didn’t make eye contact, even when he wished them a happy Thanksgiving.
In Duluth, they had a forum last year for the homeless to speak. The homeless said that due to the anti-loitering laws, they have to move all the time; otherwise they will be harassed by the police. They said, they are sometimes abused but mainly treated like they were invisible.
I feel so guilty when I read this. I see homeless people all the time; in Washington, Duluth or the Twin Cities and I cross the street to avoid interacting with them. One time, in Duluth, a very dirty man was in front of me in line to pay for groceries. The cashier knew him and they chatted a little. It was a cold day in October. When I had paid for the groceries, I went outside to get into my car. The man sat on a bench drinking out of his carton of milk. I tried to think of something to say, but what could I say?