Homelessness is a growing epidemic. The problem can be seen in every town and every city in every industrialized nation on this beautiful earth. The last time a global survey was attempted – in 2005 by the United Nations – an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide.
One. Hundred. Million…
Anyone who lives in an bustling city or affluent town can tell you how easy it can become to just walk past the man on the street with the cardboard sign, the teenager sitting in the alley holding a twice-lit cigarette, the mother and her child huddled at the bus stop. Too easy to look away, to ignore, to believe it’s because they want to be there, they did this to themselves, it’s their problem…not ours.
Many researchers and organizations have tried to determine the causes behind homelessness. The list of findings and reasons is long. Oftentimes it is financial hardship. Many times there is drug and alcohol abuse involved. Or children without parents or family. Adults without parents or family. Or friends. Victims of physical and emotional abuse. Victims of war. Soldiers of war. The mentally handicapped, the physically handicapped. Often it is a combination of causes, and every case is different.
So what can we do to help? Recent studies, including the three-year long Family Options Study conducted by the United States Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have shown some common themes and solutions:
Treat each person with respect and dignity – This one seems obvious, but studies have shown that the simple acts of showing respect, kindness, and human compassion can have strong and lasting impacts. Saying hello and offering a kind word, perhaps buying them a meal or a blanket, spending time to teach someone a skill – these simple acts of kindness can do wonders for confidence and mental wellbeing.
Each circumstance and story is unique – There is no magic cure, no single program or solution for this epidemic. A broad range of solutions is needed including housing, mental and physical healthcare, education and skills training, and drug and alcohol addiction support. And infrastructure and programs and workers in place, to perform outreach to homeless communities and administer these services.
Permanent housing dramatically increases health and wellness and the chances for long-term success in life
Evidence shows that many currently suffering from homelessness are trapped in a vicious cycle of joblessness and poverty. Their time and energy is mostly spent on basic human necessities – finding a place to bathe and groom, scrounging for food, finding shelter. Trying to survive. Activities like getting an education, learning a trade, getting employed…all of these become secondary at best. And with no easy access to a computer or phone or printer, getting a job is almost impossible. However, by providing access to permanent housing, it has been shown that the cycle of homelessness becomes much easier to break. And the additional benefits of safety and warmth and confidence and hope are immeasurable.
Of course most of these solutions require time and effort and funding, though many argue the money already being spent on dealing with the symptoms of homelessness should also be used to address the underlying causes. And that the savings from improving the homeless problem would also offset many of the costs. Others want to raise taxes and/or divert funding from other government programs. Clearly this a complex discussion, one that is thankfully happening more and more by governments and organizations and leaders around the globe. And each one of us can make a huge difference right in our own community, often times without spending any money at all. You can volunteer for a local homeless organization. Donate food or clothing or household items. Befriend someone in your neighborhood who might be down on their luck, and offer to help them. Teach them a skill or trade. Have a meal with them. Show them how much you care. As we all know, a small act of kindness can go a long way.
Thank you readers for continuing to do good in this world. It’s helping…
These photos were taken by our senior editor Justin Duren as part of his ongoing series highlighting homelessness around the world. See more of his homelessness project and all of his amazing photography on Instagram at @justinmduren. His aim with this photographic series is to showcase the human element of homelessness; to give a voice to the voiceless; and to inspire and encourage positive change. “I try to spend at least a day in every city and country I visit to work with the local homeless community. Sadly, I don’t usually have to search very far. Each time my approach is the same – I try to have meaningful human interactions, and share my story and goals. I offer any help they may need that day and a small donation for their time, and ask if they will allow me to take their picture and document their story. It never ceases to amaze me the kindness and appreciation and willingness I am shown by everyone I meet. These are real people just like you and me, and their stories should be told.”