One Size Doesn’t Fit All
I am often asked why people are homeless. “They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job” is a mantra I hear.
Homelessness is complicated and the solutions to it numerous. It’s not one size fits all. The only way to end homelessness is if everyone in the community is educated and involved. Could you survive on the streets?
Imagine you are diabetic and just need to rest and get some food so you feel better. You walk three miles to a shelter, only to find out the line is closed. The provider tells you that you can walk another mile to get dinner at a partnering agency.
After completing your four-mile journey the next shelter tells you a shelter card is required to eat the meal. You head to another building to get your shelter ID card. The employee behind the window tells you to wait. He leaves and you wait patiently for what seems like an eternity. You watch the clock.
After 30 minutes the agency employee returns and apologizes for forgetting you. Shelter card in hand you walk back to the shelter to eat dinner, only to find out you missed the cut off time for the meal. You begin to feel dizzy. Beads of sweat start to form on your brow and tunnel vision kicks in as staff points you to their shelter at yet another building. Trying to focus on each step you feel sick. When you enter the building an employee hands you a breathalyzer. Fumbling for the device you blow.
“Sorry, we don’t allow people that have been drinking into our shelter.” The employee points to the exit door.
You try to explain that you aren’t drunk but that your blood sugar is out of whack from not eating. Before you finish the thought you black out and hit the floor. Light painfully hits your eyes. You can hear the paramedics around you talking.
“Just another drunk bum. I get sick of these losers. It makes me mad that we have to go on a call like this when there are real emergencies out there,” you hear one of them say and the others agree.
Each one of these things has happened to my clients as they experience homelessness in Southern Nevada. How can you help?
After meeting with communities that have successfully decreased or ended homelessness, including Salt Lake City, New Orleans and Phoenix, a common thread became clear. Each of the communities credited their success to the involvement of private business, and concerned citizens becoming educated and getting involved. The private sector didn’t duplicate services but found where existing resources needed support and stepped up to fundraise or provide volunteer support.
It is important to note there are many great housing and shelter providers in Southern Nevada. Take time to learn more about them. Do something crazy and be a little mouse and walk onto a homeless provider’s open campus. Observe how staff and clients interact. Be a detective and investigate the charity before you give on SilverFlume, Charity Navigator, GuideStar or Razoo to see if your charity is a recognized nonprofit with the appropriate paperwork.
So, do you think you would have survived if this happened to you on the streets? Will you help end homelessness or just pass by and call out, “Get a job, you lazy bum”?
Formerly homeless, Merideth Spriggs is the founder and chief kindness officer of Caridad, a homeless-service provider based in downtown Las Vegas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.