Homelessness is nothing new, of course. We have all grown up with our own quirky perceptions of "bums," "hobos," "loiterers" and "ne'r-do-wells." Many people look down on them calling them "lazy drunks" who simply don't want to work. Maybe that is true in some cases. As Dave "The Water Man" Ross, who puts himself on the front lines every day, says, "If you're not dysfunctional before you hit these streets, you soon will be. These streets will kill you."
And there is a new face to homelessness now. Entire families are living in their cars and bathing in public restroom sinks because they can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on their homes or apartments. Without an address they cannot easily find work. It's a downward spiral.
The homeless population has burgeoned over the last few years due to our global economic downturn. A study done in 2007 by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.
My friend, Mary at Bread and Lightning, has created a page featuring my photos of homeless people in San Diego taken over the last couple of years while producing the multiple award-winning documentary, "The Invisible Ones: Homeless Combat Veterans." It's good that more and more people are becoming aware of the plight of the homeless and are doing what they can to help. Take a look at the Bread and Lightning homeless exhibit and think about what you can do to help someone who is homeless in your town. Giving them a five-dollar bill may not be the best thing for them, as it could feed their addiction to alcohol or drugs. A friend of mine says that she keeps a stack of Power Bars in her glove box in case she encounters a homeless person. Dave "The Water Man" Ross has given out water to the homeless, tirelessly every day for more than three years now. These "small act of kindness" do add up; however, we need to all gather as a community to address the issue of poverty. Why are there so many impoverished citizens in our great country? If anything is possible, then it is possible to create an environment where everyone can live up to their full potential, in good health and without fear. Why couldn't we all share that dream?
Those who sit back in their ivory towers insisting that homeless people "made their bed and now they should lie in it" don't really seem to get it. As Dr. Jon Nachison, Co-Founder of the Stand Down, says, "They are us, and we are them." As another of my good friends, Sherrill "The Egg Man," who is no longer with us, used to say, "The only thing separating us from each other is our skin." And as I like to say, "If we don't do something to help the needy now, then who will help us when we are the needy ones?"