Imagine you are walking through the streets of New York City on a beautiful day. Perhaps you are in a hurry to meet a group of friends. Maybe you finally received that interview for your dream internship and you need to get there early. Or, on the other hand, maybe you are in no rush at all.
“Excuse me, can you spare some change so I can have something to eat?”
Your train of thought is briefly interrupted by someone in need — someone with nowhere to call home and who has no idea where their next meal is coming from. This is quite an unfortunate circumstance, but the majority of the time, one’s natural reaction is to look away and instantly block it from their minds. And along they go with their day.
According to the Community West Foundation, “poverty is an ugly reality and when confronted with it, many of us choose to look away, not wanting to accept a reality that doesn’t align with our own.”
Chances are, you have been in a similar situation when you saw someone in need. It is impossible for one individual to help everyone who is homeless, so what is the point of acknowledging it? Thus, we go about our business.
I am guilty of this myself. I worked in Brooklyn this past summer, and each time I left from the night shift, there would be the same exact woman with her familiar speech — “Please spare some change for me and my dog … have a good night everybody!”
Although I thought about it all of the time, I never took any action. I merely kept walking so I could catch the bus. Looking back, this was selfish of me, especially since I walked past her regularly throughout the summer. Was there something that I could have done? What can we do as a community to help with homelessness in the United States?
The first step is recognizing the causes of homelessness and being aware of the pertinent issue. According to The Salvation Army, one can become homeless due to poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of affordable housing, domestic violence and the list goes on. It can happen to anyone, so it is important not to degrade those who are experiencing this unfortunate reality.
For instance, I was very surprised to discover that one of my teachers in the United Kingdom last semester was homeless for several months at one point due to a housing crisis in Britain. When she disclosed this information, I realized that homelessness can happen to anyone, whether it is in the United States or elsewhere.
According to ThinkProgress, over 600,000 Americans are homeless on any given night. Moreover, based on statistics provided by Social Solutions, 564,708 people in the United States were homeless in 2016. Of that group, a quarter of them were children. In the same year, approximately 8 percent of the homeless population were veterans, and 50 percent of entire homeless group in 2016 was over 50 years old.
Millennials, primarily low-income youth, are also at a high risk of homelessness. For example, an article from NBC News examines 20-year-old Elizabeth, who became homeless when she and her mother became evicted from their apartment in the Bronx. She was forced to turn down jobs that required her to stay overnight in order to keep her bed in a homeless shelter. In the same article, the author explores 22-year-old Shatiera in New York City, who became homeless after her adoptive mother passed away. She eventually started to sleep on subways after constantly moving between foster homes. According to the article, 90 percent of homeless youth in New York City do not have a safe and secure place to stay, and 71 percent of them “couch-surf” in order to have somewhere to be each night.
Among millennials facing homelessness, an article from The Atlantic states that about 14 percent of community college students are homeless. In Cincinnati, a major city in the United States, about 5 percent of homeless people are college graduates. This goes to show that even though students go to college to get a good job, it often does not even guarantee a roof over one’s head. Additionally, many college graduates have student loans to pay off on top of that.
Homelessness is clearly a relevant problem in our country, so how can we help as citizens? Firstly, there are homeless shelters and organizations such as The Salvation Army where one can donate clothes. The Salvation Army here in the city of Binghamton assists homeless people in our area and beyond. They also help those who are in need who come from food deserts very far away. Moreover, one can also donate nonperishable food to food pantries.
There are also opportunities to volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters and to donate money. Based on Mother Nature Network, there is an app called HandUp, where one can read stories of specific homeless people and donate directly to them.
Of course, there is also the more direct approach. We can always do a good deed and, for instance, buy a sandwich for someone in the street who is in need. It may seem like a small act to you, but it can make a complete difference in that person’s day.
The next time you see a homeless person in need, remember that they are also a person with hopes and dreams. Do not treat them like they are invisible.
Brad Calendrillo is a junior majoring in English.