Homeless in the USA

The homeless problem in the US has really tugged at my heartstrings. I rode my bike through the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago and write about how I felt out there. https://silverwheelsblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/the-homeless-traveler/   It was the most lonely experience I can remember. It’s bad enough to be homeless, but to be so shunned as well?

It’s easy to say they are mentally ill. They are lazy. It is their choice. They should just get a job. They should take care of themselve and stop expecting handouts from the rest of us. This is easy to say until you talk to homeless people. I met only two homeless on my bike trip who were relatively young. All the rest had silver in their hair, and many were clearly seniors. I read a statistic recently that said half the homeless were over 50. It’s hard enough to get a job at that age when you have a home, let alone when you are on the street without an address, shower, or clean clothes.

I talked with the elderly greeter at Walmart. He was sitting on a stool inside the door, cane in hand. He said it isn’t too bad. People are good to him, and the money helps him get by. I saw another guy sleeping at a bus stop while people waited for the bus, totally ignoring him. Someone must have given him a sleeping bag. It looked quite new. The sun was out and it’s was tolerably warm, but what does he do at night when temperatures are in the 30’s and dew, if not rain soaks everything?

This guy below was begging at an intersection, sign in one hand, dog in the other. He was totally gray with a gray beard, clearly not a young person. I was across the street in stealth mode, not wanting to intrude without asking.

A homeless man and his dog

I did have an extended conversation with Jean, however. I don’t know how old she is but she has a fair amount of gray in her hair. She was doing OK until the recession and real estate downturn. She lost her house, and then her job. Then her husband also lost his job. She managed to find another job but then go laid off from it too. The stress of all this unraveled the marriage and she ended up alone.

She said she has applied for every source of help she can find with no results. There is a 15 year wait for section 8 housing. She would love to have a job and be able to take care of herself but she just can’t get there on her own. She is trying to get enough money to pay off a ticket so she can get her drivers license, and then maybe get a job driving. She has no teeth and no way of changing that, so this makes her look less emplyable. She is thankful she has a friend (also homeless) with a car who lets Jean sleep in the car and keep her things there. She says homeless shelters aren’t very helpful because you need to get there with all your stuff, and in the morning you are put back out on the street again.

Jean and her dog

Chloe, her dog, is a source of comfort and warmth at night. I can only imagine, alone on the street, how much it would mean to have a dog. I asked if there was anything I could bring her on my way back from shopping. She said kind people had brought her socks and warm clothes, but could she have a coke? It would such a luxury and a treat. What’s she thanked me for the most though, was stopping to talk. She said she feels like poison much of the time, and it meant a lot to her to be seen as a human being.

When you see a homeless person, don’t be quick to judge. You don’t know their story and their struggles. It could be any one of us. A series of bad turns, bad luck, no family or safety net, and down you go. How this is OK with this country is beyond me, but I see this administration taking away rather than extending help to our most vulnerable. I only hope the future brings a strong and swift backlash to this attitude.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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31 Responses to Homeless in the USA

  1. scottsaunders467675625 says:

    wow Kris, having grown up fending for myself all of my life, I usually had little empathy for the homeless. I’ve even donated my time to food shelters. Your story about Jean reminded me how, but for the grace of God, there go I.
    In the future, I’ll be talking with more of the homeless during my various waits for trains.
    Thanks for the post,
    Scott/Baja

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laureen says:

    Homelessness is such a huge problem in the US, and when we lived on the Oregon coast, it was one of the groups that tugged at my heartstrings as well. A small gesture like giving a homeless person dog treats for their pooch, while they are waiting out in the cold, for the soup kitchen to open their doors for lunch….
    What a difference it can make in someone’s day. It is simple and not costly to ask someone if you can buy them something to eat while you are at the grocery store anyway. Thank you for the reminder to not judge others Kris. Everyone comes with a history, and we don’t know what most people’s stories are. They do deserve our compassion and if it is in one’s budget, some financial help or a meal is appreciated as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just seeing them as a human being, stopping to exchange a friendly word, I saw how much that meant to everyone I talked with. If you can offer a bit of material support, so much the better. But kindness means so much to all of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. CAMILO QUELQUEJEU says:

    Did you know that the US Military Budget, is larger than the next ten biggest Military budgets combined ?
    Yet we keep increasing it, with the only purpose of killing more people, instead of using it to make for a better life for our own citizens. More infrastructure projects could give work to millions of people, and help to make the country great again ! Instead we make more bombs, and more war.
    We could make cheap housing, and feed all the poor and homeless. I hate the deep swamp people that run the politicians in Washington DC, and wish they would all become homeless !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I have said that for years! We should give every politician $100 and put them on the street, no calling friends, no resources, nothing more than what any lonely homeless people would have. After a year of that they would be singing a quite different tune. Only then could they try for political office.

      We live in such an age of irrational fear, IMO. It drives the huge military, people who must have guns, people who want to keep the US only white and Christian, etc. It’s unfortunate and not a happy way to live.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I lite in the Caucasus mountains and I pay my taxes. Lets give Trump a chance. If he doesn’t help the homeless we vote him out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    As a non-practicing alcoholic for the last 32 years, I understand the effects of addiction that results in homelessness for many. I remember the remarks of C.S. Lewis,

    “One day, Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, “What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don’t you know he’s just going to go squander all that on ale?” Lewis paused and replied, “That’s all I was going to do with it.”

    There are enough government programs of assistance to help people but getting people to give up some of their independence to accept help is a problem. Making people more dependent on the government isn’t progress for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many have substance abuse problems or mental health issues but definitely not all. And, from what I heard from Jean and others, government programs are terribly inadequate to help the large numbers who need it. Housing is s big need, and 15 year wait for section 8 assistance?? I met others on my bike trip who hoped for section 8 and learned it’s pretty much impossible. I don’t have answers, but from what I have seen what we are doing isn’t working for so many.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jim and nena says:

      My SIL was on housing assistance because of her low income. There are only 4 requirements for section 8 and none have a waiting period to my knowledge. Perhaps there are not any landlords in Jean’s area who are part of Section 8 program. The requirements are simple and straightforward.
      https://www.thebalance.com/section-8-housing-eligibility-requirements-2125017

      Liked by 1 person

      • Unfortunately meeting the requirements and having housing available are two different things. I met others on my bike trip who qualified but had no hope of available housing in the foreseeable future. One lady was in her second year of living in a falling apart camper that was supposed to be shelter for only a few weeks. Low income housing is terribly inadequate, at least in this part of the country.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jim and nena says:

        Location is a big factor in this. Age is also a requirement for organizations offering low income shelter. Texas has far less homeless per this information: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/texanomics/article/The-amazing-decline-in-Texas-homelessness-10641684.php
        My SIL was 68 when she got her green card so after a few years of working 2, sometimes 3 jobs at once, she was able to get a place here: Tarrant County B’nai B’rith Apartments offers One Bedroom Apartments, which are 540 square feet. There was on site help with government programs, group insurance, co-op electrical service, and transportation.

        I think another be factor in a state taking care of the homeless is the state of the state’s finances. Some states are having serious economic trouble and that affects the amount of assistance available.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Affordable housing is a big thing,and TX does well in this. If we had to come back to the US we would go to TX and this is one of the biggest reasons. The article also mentioned jobs for all education levels. I hope other states see what is working in TX and follows your example.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Felipe says:

    Very interesting and compassionate post. Thank you for the gentle reminder to be kind.
    I see more and more young people living in small RVs. They park on the street and don’t use light inside to draw attention. Housing is so expensive and it’s cold here. A new book called “Nomadland” is sad, more about the elderly living in RVs. It sounds exciting and fun, but it just one step from homelessness.
    My sister befriended an old homeless man in DC. She’s helped him get social security, VA benefits, and now trying to get him to come off the street into some transitional housing. I should be as good a person as my sister. Your perspective coming from Panama is good for us who are slowly getting used to the degradation of our society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My CA daughter works for the government and after hours, they open their huge parking lot to people living in cars and RV’s. It’s overflowing every night and they are looking for more space. Housing is so expensive that they had a lot of trouble filling positions in their office because people couldn’t afford housing on what they were able to pay. Teachers and others are also leaving the area for the same reason.
      Nomadland, I need to read that. Thanks for mentioning it.
      Panama has been a huge education in thinking differently. The kindness, the inclusion in community, the respect, it’s a really big thing. Sometimes I see a beggar at the bus station and almost everyone puts a few coins in their cup, and I sense no looking down on the person. But beggars and homeless are extremely rare. People may live in shacks made of scraps but they have a roof over their heads, and neighbors who will share what they have.
      How good of your sister. Not all of us have the time and energy to go that far. But if we all do a little bit maybe we can make a difference.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Felipe says:

        Very interesting about the parking lots. It reminds me of the homeless shelters. You have to go find somewhere to be during the day, with all your stuff, but you can go back to sleep. I imagine motorhomes wandering the city til the workers leave and they can park again. But it’s a wonderful temporary solution to give people a safe place to be at night.

        One thing I notice here (25 miles south of Vail) is that towns no longer talk about “affordable housing.” It’s “workforce housing.” Aspen had affordable housing in the 70’s. The people who bought those units are now retiring, and they want to stay in the community they’ve been in 35+ years. So that housing isn’t housing workers anymore.
        Hence I think the new phrase, making it clear that when you’re not working and productive, you need to go live somewhere else. It adds to that feeling that we the many are here to serve the few. Very interesting topic,, Kris!

        Like

  7. oldsalt1942 says:

    You, Joel, and I have talked about this before as we explored places off the beaten gringo trails in Panama. It’s usually in the heavily indigenous areas where we see shacks, hovels, thrown together from bamboo chopped down in nearby groves. Roofs of palm thatch or rusty metal sheeting. Dirt floors. An old outhouse in the back yard. Places that appall us and we certainly wouldn’t want to live like that and we DO pity those that DO live like that. BUT, and it’s a BIG BUT…They’re not sleeping under a bridge! They have a place to go and be dry when it’s pouring rain. It’s THEIRS!! There are plantains and bananas and yucca growing in the yard to they have food! In so many ways the poor people of Panama have it better than the homeless of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave!

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    • I also see a whole lot more family and community support. You may live in a shack, but your neighbors say hello and talk with you, and probably share anything that they have. It’s warm, you can grow and scavenge food, buy rice and beans for little money, and feel connected with other people. That’s way better than the homeless in the US.

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  9. Benign Travels says:

    I’m from New Zealand and have been travelling around the USA for a few weeks now. I was absolutely shocked by the number of people here who are homeless! Great post, it’s easy to forget that each of these people come with their own story, and it’s great to see people like yourself going out and hearing them.

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  10. Benign Travels says:

    Great post!

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  11. A nice initiave to bring this major concern in front of the people, as many of us passes away after having a look at the homeless people and feel pity for them, but writing for their support & aid would create a different line of thinking in the lives of materialistic man.

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  12. Pingback: Homeless in the USA — The Panama Adventure – Help the Shelters

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