By Israel Bayer
The rainy season is upon us, and for people on the streets that means that survival now becomes a matter of life or death. The issue of homelessness for many is an issue of public safety, but in reality, thousands of people sleeping outdoors is an issue of public health.
Some people who are mentally and physically vulnerable and have no access to health care or a roof over their head, will get sick and die this winter. It’s that simple and harsh.
It hasn’t always been like this. Over the past three decades urban environments across the U.S. have experienced a massive rise in people experiencing homelessness. Many would have you believe that it’s because of a person’s individual choices, or simply bad luck — an urban myth that has been perpetuated by years of negative campaigns, ignorance and false assumptions against the homeless.
In reality, over the past three decades we have gone from a small portion of U.S. citizens sleeping outdoors to millions of people living without a safe and decent home. For years, the eroding of government institutions coupled with an array of social factors and corporate welfare has created a perfect storm for the modern-day downtrodden.
Many young people under the age of 35 have been born into a generation where homelessness is a normal part of society.
It’s not normal.
When I speak to groups, I often start with trauma itself. When you strip back all of the rhetoric surrounding the issue of homelessness, that’s really what we are talking about: trauma.
Many people entering homelessness may have already experienced one or more nervous breakdowns on the way to the streets. Maybe it’s an abusive partner, or it’s their experience in Afghanistan. Possibly they lost it all — the home, the wife, the husband, and kids. Maybe the family is still together, but there’s simply no place left to turn and living in the car is what life has come down to. Maybe you are coming out of the pen, or have been hitting life fast and hard and have burned every bridge from Sellwood to San Antonio.
Regardless of how one arrives on the streets, once you’re down on the block, it’s a hard-knock life. Street Roots witnesses some of the most beautiful acts of human kindness on one hand, and the cruelest form of survival on the other. Throw in the rain, the rats, the police and private security, the drugs and the endless uphill struggle to access services and housing, and who among us wouldn’t crack, or develop some kind of mental disorder?
It’s a living hell that becomes a thin grey line. When logic is found in the form of adequate services and housing, it still takes years to get back what has been lost both physically and mentally, if at all.
So the next time you see someone sleeping in a doorway, or a family living in their car, remember three things. One, it’s not normal, and we shouldn’t subvert to such a society. Two, it has been a long road for the many who sleep outdoors. And three, everyone deserves a safe and decent home. We all play a part. It’s as simple as that.