Friday, December 1, 2017

'Tis the Season

Thought for the day:  People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.  [Sheila McKechnie]

 You can't see his face, but he still has one.
Are there any homeless people in your town? Do you ever pass them when you're walking down the street? Maybe see them sleeping on a park bench or under a slab of cardboard? Do you... see them? I mean, really see them?

Most people don't, you know. Most don't look at their faces, and don't think of them as real people. As individuals. It's much easier to lump them together and dismiss them as a faceless nameless group of... what? Unfortunates?

A castaway in the sea was going down for the third time when he caught sight of a passing ship. Gathering his last strength, he waved frantically and called for help. Someone on board peered at him scornfully and shouted back, "Get a boat!" [Daniel Quinn]

Is that the kind of disdain society shows the homeless? I'm ashamed to say it, but all too often, it is.

At least, we try harder this time of year. After all, 'tis the season, right?

Last week, the World Congress Center in Atlanta was put to a very good use. Not to promote industry or innovative ideas, and not as a center for a robotics or some other kind of competition. No, it was used as the venue to provide a lovely Thanksgiving dinner to people in need, many of whom were homeless. Some 7000 people were served on-site, and another 1000 meals were delivered to people who were unable to attend. In addition, haircuts, clothing, medical care, and other services were provided, as needed.

Fabulous, right? This annual feeding, began by the now-deceased Hosea Williams, has been taking place in Atlanta for many years. But what happens to all of those people the other 364 days of the year?



Four years ago, a homeless man who'd been wandering the streets of Atlanta for nearly a year was featured in our local newspaper. His story started with him doing what he did every day... digging through dumpsters for something to eat.

Well, he found a wallet in one of the dumpsters. A Frenchwoman's wallet... and it contained her ID and credit card. This homeless man... this man named Joel... was determined to make it right for that tourist, so he walked from hotel to hotel, until he found where she was staying. At the luxurious Omni hotel, he turned the wallet over to the desk clerk, but when the clerk asked for his name, Joel made one up. What difference did it make? He figured he was... nobody.



But he wasn't nobody to the hotel manager. Based on the picture taken by the security camera, people hit the streets until they found Joel... and brought him back to the hotel. There, he was given five hundred dollars and a week's stay, complete with free room service and a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.


Joel was much appreciative of the shower and bed. He also received new clothes, a haircut, and a modicum of new-found dignity. He also got a lot of publicity. Other people sent money and gifts to him, and he got several job offers. He was the homeless man who'd done the right thing. He was the homeless man with a background story... the homeless man with a face. With a name...



and a family, a family that had been trying to find him for the past decade. His deceased father's long-time girlfriend and two half-brothers flew to Atlanta to reunite with him. They all had Thanksgiving dinner together, and then the family left. Went back home to their lives.

Joel's story certainly didn't end there, but that was the extent of the newspaper coverage. I can't help but wonder what became of him and if he went to Alaska, like he said he wanted to do, or if he's still wandering the streets of Atlanta or some other city. I wonder if he got the medical and mental help he needed, and if he's been able to hold a job, gotten back on his feet... and stayed there. And I wonder if he ever saw his family again, or if that was a one-time Thanksgiving kinda thing.

Joel's short time in the limelight brings up a lot of questions. Like, what does it say about decent society that it can be so insultingly surprised that a homeless man did the right thing? After all, no matter what his current circumstances, how can we justify jumping to the automatic assumption that he isn't a kind and caring soul, and a decent man with concern for other people?

I mean, I don't think I'm alone when I look at the homeless person or the psychotic or the drunk or the drug addict and see their baby pictures in my mind's eye. You don't think they were cute like every other baby? [Dustin Hoffman]

Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.  [Mother Teresa]

A 27 year-old female visitor to Philadelphia ran out of gasoline... at night... and learned first-hand how kind and caring a homeless man can be. Johnny Bobbitt, Jr., a 36 year-old homeless man, told her to lock her car doors, and then he walked to a gas station, purchased gas with his last twenty dollars and brought it back to her. Kate McClure didn't have any cash to repay him at the time, but she later returned several times to bring him cash, clothes, and food. But that didn't feel like nearly enough to repay the selfless man, so she started a Gofundme.com campaign in his behalf, hoping to raise $10,000 to help him find a place to live, because she was sure all he needed was a little break. As of the last time I checked, donations for this former Marine had soared to nearly four hundred thousand dollars. Evidently, others believed in giving him a chance, too. https://www.gofundme.com/hvv4r-paying-it-forward


 I can't help but wonder if this time of year... this glorious time of Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, and joy to the world isn't the real reason Joel got the royal treatment for a week, and why so many people opened their wallets to help Johnny. Do you think they would have been treated as well in the middle of  July or August?




Have you ever wished people were as loving and caring year-round as they are during this time of year? Wondered why the smiles and laughter aren't as heartfelt, and the hugs as warm, in March as they are in December? Why you don't get a mountain of wrapped presents every day, instead of just one measly time a year? (Only kidding about that one. Just checking to see if you were paying attention.) Anyway, Christmas is fast approaching. Anticipation builds, and as we all prepare to celebrate, I'd like to share an excerpt from Keeping Christmas, written by Henry Van Dyke:

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front of you so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open---



Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?
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                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

If you light a lamp for someone, it will also brighten your path.  [Buddhist saying]

57 comments:

  1. A sad post today, but very important. So many are homeless these days, and for most people they are just an unpleasant reminder of what could happen to any and all of us, and therefore avoided. I don't have a lot of money to give, but people are really happy if you stop and talk for a few minutes, or buy them a coffee, or some dog treats for their 4 legged companions. Thanks for bringing this topic up, which is especially important at this time of year. Hugs, Valerie

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    1. You make a valid point. Perhaps people are terrified by their subliminal "there but for the grace of God" thoughts. It's scary to look into the face of a homeless person, because we might see ourselves reflected there.

      Yes, absolutely! Simple kindnesses and being treated with human dignity mean so much.

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  2. I see the homeless and wonder what happened that they now live on the streets. I wonder about their parents, what hopes and dreams they had for the tiny new baby that is now grown and living on the streets. And I agree that a big feats and gifts on one day of the year, they do it for Christmas here, really isn't enough. there are 364 other days when they'd like a good meal too and maybe a shower and clean clothes.

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    1. It sounds like you truly see them as individuals. (Not that I'm surprised.) A lot of different routes lead to homelessness, and in some cases, a job loss or catastrophic illness is all that separates the homeless from the fortunate people who still have an income, good health, and a place to live.

      You're right. Once a year isn't enough.

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    1. It IS quite a feat to pull OFF those feasts... :)

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  4. What a powerful post, friend Susan !!! ... It moved me to tears ... of joy that is ... Me be gone walkabut for a while ... so wishin you and the whole damn fam a very happy holiday season ... Love you ... cat.

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    1. You and your whole damn fam have a fantastic Holiday season, too. Don't u forget to button up ur coat on that walkabout... all sweet cats need to be warm, ya know.

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  5. Some of the clients that come to our community service/food bank are homeless. We try our best to get them shelter but some refuse. Women with children are the first priority and there are more places for them than single men. The reasons for homelessness are so varied and listening to their stories can break your heart. Some are old, many are veterans, abuse plays a big part, mental/physical illness, addiction loss of a job and hoplessness all contribute to this condition. It is a problem that has always been with us and probably always will be. They are people on the fringes of a society that are ignored because we don’t want to look for fear that it could possibly happen to us or to those we love.

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    1. Good point. I've worked with a number of homeless people who chose to remain on the streets, too. Most of them were veterans. Traumatized? Mentally ill? I don't know, but they considered it to be their best alternative and said it made them feel free.

      You're probably right about it being a long-time problem that will never go away, but I'm still hoping you're wrong. Affordable housing, especially in big cities that are becoming increasingly "gentrified," is becoming scarcer, but at least there's been renewed interest in building some in Atlanta. Whether it ever comes to fruition remains to be seen.

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  6. I try to keep Christmas in my heart all year and yes it would be wonderful if the Christmas spirt would last forever. Homeless people seem to be everywhere you go. We have shelters and hot meals that provide temporary relief, but really there should be more permanent solution to this growing problem. If each of us does just a little maybe great things could happen.

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    1. Just by reading your blog posts, I already knew you keep Christmas in your heart all year round.

      I like to think there will someday be a permanent solution, but nowadays, in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality, politicians pass laws to force them from their towns, so they can sweep the issue under the proverbial rug.

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  7. As Dickens says, keep the Christmas spirit in your heart throughout the year.
    Those are both amazing stories. But you're right, a decent person will do the right thing no matter what the circumstances.

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    1. Absolutely. Core principles of decency, kindness, and caring aren't contingent on circumstances.

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  8. Yeah, I highly doubt that such stories would have gained traction in say March. Sad indeed. But at least it hopefully opens some eyes that think homelesss people are all bad or something. Then the fakes ruin it for many. One big mess indeed. And yep, pathetic that people are only nice when a jolly fat guy comes around. With obesity on the rise people should be happy all the time lol

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    1. I agree with you about the fakes. There are some guys who panhandle a few hours every day, simply because they make more money doing that than they do holding a job.

      HA! You've got that right. No shortage of fat. :)

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  9. Homelessness is such a tragic reality. :( And so true about people being more willing to help during the holiday season, despite the fact that kindness and generosity are needed year-round. It's something I've noticed myself, and it's unfortunate, for sure...

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    1. Yep, it is tragic and unfortunate. Maybe, one by one, we can all do something to change it. Before society can make any concrete changes, though, it has to change its attitude about homelessness.

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  10. I read a story in the paper about how some homeless people living in cardboard boxes get angry when they are, as they see it, 'patronised' by well-meaning people. I don't like the arguement that sometimes is heard about "I don't give them money - they would only spend it on alcohol or drugs". I don't think we should give with conditions - only with a good heart.
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    1. Good point. Generosity shouldn't come with strings attached.

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  11. My heart breaks for our homeless population, there are so many people out there living on the streets who do have names and faces, they are human just like us, a lot of them have mental health issues and need help, but a lot of the others simply need a hand. What really ticks me off are the people pretending to be homeless and asking for handouts, they are in a sense kicking the homeless people around them in the head so to say...this just ain't right.

    The idea that we have so many people on the streets bothers me every day, we do help out where we can, I just wish I had an answer.

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    1. You're right. Some people do pretend to be homeless so they can scam money from kind-hearted souls. It's a real shame. The problem is bad enough without them taking advantage of the situation for selfish reasons.

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  12. Some strong messages of 'brotherly love' today......when the world needs it most.

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    1. For sure. The world needs extra helpings of brotherly love to make up for the terrifying increase of intolerance.

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  13. Excellent and compassionate post, Susan. Happily, Sacramento's new Mayor --more humane than the previous one-- was recently successful in getting a federal grant for health services and shelters for our growing homeless population. The city will receive $32 million from the federal government that matches $32 million in local funds. Mayor Steinberg is having trouble with parts of the county pitching in, but he has a strong record of getting good work done. I know other cities are doing the the same and they've been good examples --but we've got a lot of catching up to do. Lives depend on it.

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    1. It's great that positive things are happening in the Sacramento area. I'm a wee bit concerned that money may be drying up on the federal level, though. And you're right... lives do depend on it.

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  14. There's nothing I can add to the comments of the good people above. Powerful post, Susan!!

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  15. I live in a small town so I don't see any homeless people - that I know of. But I also work in a pawn shop and I see a lot of people down on their luck. It would be nice if the generous spirit of Christmas would stay with people all year long.

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    1. I used to think small towns were somewhat immune from problems like homelessness, but not any more.

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  16. Thought provoking post, Susan. Yes, we have a lot of people on the streets here. Victoria/Vancouver area is a magnet for people across the country because of the mild winters. Can't really add much to what has already been said.

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    1. I imagine the homeless population here in Atlanta may have something to do with our mild winters, too.

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  17. Keeping Christmas.......excellent thoughts and quite a post. I can't say I help homeless, but I do help and support a women's shelter with The Birthday Project. To some extent, these are women in need and we celebrate the kids monthly. I guess I feel okay with the teensy bit I do. But I know so many folks are troubled and need help. Tough issue!

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    1. Your "teensy bit" is quite a lot. No matter how much we do, I think those of us with a social conscience feel like it's never enough.

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  18. An excellent and thought-provoking post, Susan. I remember hearing about Joel in the news and - much like you - I wondered whatever happened to him. Unfortunately, life has very few truly happy endings.

    Whenever I see the homeless, the unfortunate, the hopelessly downtrodden, I never scoff or have a condescending attitude. There is only a fragile line between them and us. Misfortune can happen to anyone - much more quickly than we think.
    I speak from bitter experience....

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    1. Thanks, cowboy.

      You're right about that fragile line. I'm sorry your wisdom had to come from bitter experience, though.

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  19. So many of us are just a paycheck or two away from being homeless, yet it's often easy to think of the homeless as "those people" rather than remember that they're people just like us.

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  20. Dear Susan - such a thought provoking post ... I think I'd seen about Joel - and yes you do wonder how he is. In this day and age the disparity between those who have and those who don't is getting larger - we all need to reach out - however small and help in someway ... thanks for this wonderful post - cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi-ya, Hilary. Yeah, the gulf between the folks on top and those at the bottom is getting bigger all the time. That "trickle-down" idea doesn't seem to have worked very well...

      Cheers back atcha.

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  21. Greetings Susan. An interesting post. My ex used to help the homeless a lot, even letting some stay with her in her flat! Sadly the homeless people I know who hang about my area are known junkies! The stories you posted were inspirational, and I'm glad they got to enjoy life, albeit briefly, or with longevity! Blessings to you.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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    1. Greetings, Andrew. Good on your ex. Not many people are willing to open their homes to strangers.

      Blessings back atcha.

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  22. Sobering - but a necessary, timely post/
    Only by sharing their stories again and again (like you've done here) will the pendulum begin to right itself. One can only hope ... and pray.

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    1. Agreed. Recognizing the homeless as individuals with unique stories is a big step, maybe even a necessary one, to opening our hearts to helping them.

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  23. You made me cry, Susan. We have a large population of homeless people. Many "live" in tents or other makeshift structures in wooded areas around the city. I don't give money to people, but I do invite them to go into a store with me to choose some food or even to join me for a meal in a restaurant. As a woman alone, becoming homeless is among my greatest fears. When couples divorce, the man usually experiences an increase in income while the woman experiences a much larger decrease. So many of us stayed at home to take care of our husbands and children--the men who promised us they would always take care of us financially and would never leave, until they do.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Well then, we're even, because you made me cry, too. The old stereotype about divorced women getting the gold mine and divorced men getting the shaft is far from an accurate picture.

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    2. Time for a nice cup of tea and a tall bottle of tequila. (Just kidding about the booze...)

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  24. We have quite a few homeless people here in Lakeland - one of the reasons being that Lakeland is pretty decent to the homeless, while Orlando and Tampa just want kick them out. But you are right - people tend to not look at their faces and avoid making eye contact. Is it fear? Are we afraid of someone mentally unstable hurting us?

    I know I never give money to people begging at intersections - but I know I always feel guilty. It's a tough call. I really liked that Dustin Hoffman quote - I knew there was a reason I'm so fond of him.

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    1. In all fairness, I understand that fear may prevent some people from engaging with the homeless people they encounter on the street. Most of the homeless people I've dealt with have been through the soup kitchen, Salvation Army, and other social outreach-based programs, and there's a big difference between interacting under those circumstances versus interacting with someone on the street.

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  25. I had read about that homeless guy giving his last $20 for that girl's gas story. Really restores my faith in humanity to hear goodness coming from both of them.

    We don't have any homeless around here. We do have a lot of fakers, though, which is disappointing because I know it only sours the perception that people have of the homeless. One of them, a guy who pretends to be a veteran with no legs in a wheelchair, was recently exposed as an a-hole that just tucks his legs in to give the illusion of amputation at the knee who used that sympathy to beg for free money.

    Sickening.

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    1. The thought of that guy pretending to be a legless veteran turns my stomach. He should be forced to do community service in a VA hospital.

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  26. These are some beautiful stories. I did not know about World Congress Center Thanksgiving meal. What a nice thing to do for the homeless people. I see a homeless man walking with his cart of clothes up and down the main street where I live. I don't know his story, or where he stays and night. But you're right. We need to be considerate of these people and help them whenever we can.

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    1. Hi-ya, Sherry. It's good to hear from you!

      The Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta is a long-time tradition, but it's only been held at the WCC for the past few years.

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  27. Touching and heartwarming post, Susan. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas.

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    1. And a very Merry Christmas to you and your family, too!

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