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What is Homelessness?

“What is homelessness?” is an interesting question, don’t you think? A good friend recently asked me about my personal perspective on the subject. To be honest it was not something I had thought about often, if ever. Life’s demands generally leave us with little time to consider things beyond our periphery. So, like any person busily attempting to avoid personally answering the question, I asked friends and family for perspective.

J., a teacher in Stockton, CA, gave me a very literal answer. “I guess someone that has no potential for shelter on a regular basis”. J., a unionized plumber, replied similarly. “A person who doesn’t have a consistent source of [shelter, sanitation, or a place to sleep at night]”. N., a dedicated blue collar family man in his mid-thirties from Modesto, replied, “A person without a mailing address?”. When I pressed him to elaborate further he stated, “I imagine despair, hopelessness, loathing”. E., one of the more sarcastic people I know as well as an entrepreneur, answered with a GIF from the Showtime program “Shameless” with a subtitle stating “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Meth”. I believe in this instance the meme speaks for itself.

Opinions can range from seeing this life-altering event as an inconvenience to considering it the territory of terminally homeless addicts. This is an unfortunate perspective considering that, according to USICH statistics from 2019, California has over 150,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given day. Of that number there are around 7,000 households, over 10,000 veterans, and nearly 12,000 unaccompanied young adults. Out of those, over 41,000 are in a state of “chronic homelessness”. If we look into the California education system there are an underestimated 260,000 (some studies show it may be closer to 370,000) public school students suffering similar ordeals: living in motels, sharing rooms, living in shelters. Some are camping or going without shelter completely. For reference, those numbers are near the population of Irvine and Anaheim, respectively. How can we expect these children to keep up with their classmates if they don’t have even the most basic of needs met? How can a child focus when they are hungry, cold or exhausted?

These last statistics struck a deep chord with me. As a child of a single mother I had personally experienced some of these circumstances without understanding the entirety of the situation. She sacrificed every waking moment to do everything she could to keep us as safe and as she could and, eventually, it took its toll on her health. Knowing what I do now, I am as grateful a son as I have ever been. We should all try to take a moment to understand how severe this issue is. Perhaps with some understanding, kindness, and generosity we still have a chance to alleviate some, if not all, of these hardships and create a society of compassion in the future.


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