This dream was shared by Kate Towson, a 24 year old living Sacramento, CA. Kate works for Sacramento Steps Forward in the effort to end homelessness in the city.
When I first got this job at Sacramento Steps Forward I assumed that advocating for ending chronic homelessness would be “easy”. At the time, I thought that ending homelessness was a universal cause, not controversial or political like some of the other causes I’ve worked for. What I’ve found is that universally people support ending family homelessness, however when it comes to the face of chronic homelessness—people who are veterans, struggling with mental illness, physical disability, alcoholism or drug dependency, victims of institutionalized racism, former convicts—the support tends to waver. Because chronically homeless individuals are more visible on our streets, these individuals are the victims of negative stereotyping, lack of understanding, harassment and violence. I’ve been startled to find that when I tell people what my job is, they will blatantly tell me my job is worthless because “most bums want to be homeless” or “are lazy” or any number of harsh—and entirely wrong—statements.
There are a ton of reasons for this obviously; we have a society that misunderstands and discriminates against those who suffer from mental health issues and physical disabilities. We do not understand bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, PTSD or severe depression. We do not understand what alcoholism is, and we do not respect those who struggle with drug dependency. We have zero respect for veterans, or women fleeing from their abusers. We have zero re-entry plans for ex-convicts in this country. Oh, and if you panhandle in this country, prepare for the ultimate harassment, since we definitely don’t understand the sheer bravery and courage it takes to stick your hand out and ask for help.
So, I know no one likes “crazy people”. I know everyone blames alcoholics for their illness. I know we don’t like criminals. I know you’re afraid of the drunk, smelly, dirty guy homeless guy screaming at you on the bus.
But guess what. They all deserve a home. Each and every one of them.
Since taking a VISTA position here at SSF I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interacting with chronically homeless individuals from all over Sacramento, especially when I join a street outreach team once a month, visiting homeless camps with donations and information. In September our team came upon three men who were homeless in a Home Depot parking lot. One of the gentlemen was grateful to meet us; we had tons of donations that he and his wife could use. He and his wife had become homeless and recently had to send their children to live with their grandparents. He said we were the first people in weeks to actually talk to him, shake his hand or look him in the eye. He told us, “I’m a human being, and I’ve fallen on hard times right now. I’m homeless, I’m disabled, I can’t afford a place to stay. But you’d think because I was homeless I was also no longer a human being. Why won’t people look at me anymore? Why am I being ignored every day?”
I think most people who negatively stereotype people experiencing homelessness never think this way, and I wish more people across this country could have heard this man. I’ve recently decided to re-enroll in the VISTA program, and stay at Sacramento Steps Forward. I’ve made this decision for a number of reasons, but a main one would be the realization that not everyone feels the same way about ending homelessness as I do. How can that be? On bad days it makes me feel sad for this country, because a country that treats homeless people as “less-than-human-beings” is not a place I can feel proud of. But I strongly believe that this is the point of being an AmeriCorps volunteer, since the only way things are going to change in this country is if we redirect life’s sadness’s, inequalities and cruelty into positive action. So I guess I’m here to stay, and I’m here to keep fighting.
My dream remains homes for all. A bed for every head. Housing not handcuffs. And especially, homes for all of those people you ignore every single day.