Don't give the homeless money, give them your heart
By Jeff Gelman
For Francine Triplett, a feeling of all-encompassing loneliness was one
of the worst parts of living on the street for three and a half years.
Those who walked by her and other homeless people "treated us like
we was a big old bag of trash," said Triplett, who became homeless
after fleeing an abusive relationship.
"All I wanted was conversation. I didn't want food," she recently
said during National Poverty Awareness Week. "I looked up at the
sky and cried every night."
You don't have to give the homeless money, said Michael O'Neill, speakers'
bureau coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless.
"You give them your heart," said ONeill, who tours the country
with Triplett and two other formerly homeless people to share their experiences
and their message.
"One thing you can do is smile and say hello, how are you. That
gives hope. It can change their day around, even their life around." Homeless advocates and those who used to live on the street agree: The
restoration of human dignity is essential for homeless people to take
back their lives.
"Jobs, food, shelter. None of that means a damn thing if they don't
believe they're worth something," said Jim Shelton, director of the
Life Center of Eastern Delaware County, a homeless shelter that borders
This winter, there are many ways to help the estimated 3,500 homeless
people in Philadelphia- 300 of whom live on the street, said Rob Hess,
the City's deputy managing director of Special Needs Housing.
"As the weather gets colder, and if you see someone on the street
in need, call the outreach hotline at 215-232-1984, so a team can be sent
out to offer services," Hess said.
Or support a homeless family, either by writing a check or by purchasing
gifts for a family, or even by personally taking the gifts to a family
and learning more about them.
"People can be as active or as passive as they want to be ..." Hess said. For a shelter referral, call Hess' office at 215-686-7106.
Donations of socks, T-shirts, underwear and other men's clothing and toiletries
are greatly needed at the North Broad Street offices of the Philadelphia
Committee to End Homelessness. The organization operates a day center
for men to take showers, get a change of clothing and check their mail.
For more information, call 215-232-2300.
The city is making progress in reducing the number of homeless people
living on the street, as the amount is less than half that of 2000. Still,
Mayor Street isn't satisfied. He has ordered the city's Task Force on
Homelessness to come up with a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the
O'Neill of the National Coalition for the Homeless noted that there are
so many stereotypes of homeless people- that they're lazy, uneducated,
alcoholics and drug addicts, and that they want to live on the street.
In reality, 45 percent of homeless people work- sometimes as many as
three jobs at a time- yet they still can't earn enough money to afford
a place to live due to a dwindling amount of affordable housing. And of
the 3.5 million people who have been homeless this year, nearly a third
are children. They, along with women, are the fastest growing homeless
population, O'Neill said.
"Anyone can be homeless just like that," he said, "if
you lose your job or don't have health insurance and get injured or sick."
That's what happened to David Harris. He lived from paycheck to paycheck
until an illness that wasn't properly treated because he couldn't afford
health insurance caused him to lose his job, thus forcing him out on the
street. "Homelessness", Harris said, "is a harsh existence."
James Davis said that in all the time he worked as a space flight specialist
for NASA and later traveled the world for a different job, he never considered
how people became homeless. "I thought they just fell out of the
sky and landed there," he said.
And he never imagined it would happen to him. A combination of losing
his security clearance following the Sept. 11 attacks, the deaths of both
his parents, chronic depression and drugs, resulted in Davis' homelessness
in Washington, D.C. "This isn't the way anybody wants to live,"
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