Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Before and after the Homeless challenge

Before I participated in the homeless challenge, I had the stereotypical view of homeless people. Homeless people wore ragged and dirty clothes, they don't have work related skills, smell, panhandled often, live in the streets, alcohol and drug addicts etc.

During the challenge, I learned that not all homeless people relate to the stereotypes. I came across people who shared their stories with me. Each and every story was different; people weren't born homeless. Depression brought one person into becoming homeless. After getting a divorce with a wife he spent 20 years with, he became really sad and depressed to the point where he allowed himself to be homeless. He had a good job, but stopped working and paying his bills. He became homeless for 3 months until he started to control depression. Another person had schizophrenia and  became homeless because he wasn't able to hold a steady job. He was take to a police station after being found sleeping on federal park. He went to court; the charges were dropped and he medical help was received. A lady was thrown out of her government home for the elder that started with a complaint. Her children never grew up on welfare, her brother, sons, and nephews all served the military/navy, she always paid her rent on time, and she even worked for the government at one point of her life. She is out on the streets protesting silently. These people weren't born homeless. A reason why they can't get themselves out of homelessness is because they lost hope and opportunities are not given to them for them to thrive.

Majority of the homeless people I met looked just like regular citizens. A few of them carried a bag or a stroller to hold all of their belongings and saw few panhandlers. (Panhandlers don't make much money). No one could tell that they were homeless; the only way you'd know is if you talked to them of their situation. Anyone could be homeless, even professionals such as doctors and lawyers.There are places to take showers, do laundry, eat, and sleep. No one knew that I was homeless during the challenge because they didn't ask; they all assumed that I was just a kid out in the streets. When I did share my story of being homeless, I received a lot of support (even though some of my colleagues were yelled at because we were only pretending to be homeless). Homeless people themselves would tell me where to get food, shelter, clothes, traveling passes, and where to seek social workers. They were worried that youths are homeless because homelessness shouldn't happen to anyone especially at such a young age. There are 4 houses available for every homeless family.

After the challenge of living and sleeping out in the streets for two days, I became very thankful of what I have. I am thankful to have loving and supportive family and friends; I am thankful for having clothes, food, a bed, and shelter; I am also thankful for having an education and opportunities to better myself. I also broke down the wall of stereotypes by being able to experience homelessness first hand and became more aware of the needs when there is no house to return to. Homeless people are just like you and me; help them when they need it, whether that means giving them your spare change, offering them a meal, or even acknowledging them by saying hi or a smile. They become invisible and lose hope so remind them of who they are by asking their name or their story.

Today at SOME (so you can eat food kitchen for the homeless people), I met a homeless person who taught himself how to play the piano. I wasn't able to give him any money for meals later on the day, but I was able to make him laugh and smile. I sang while he played the piano and could tell he enjoyed it. It was a great way to start a day.

-Sandy Lo

Parts of the lyrics below from the made up song today

Woke up this morning, the sky is bright and clear.
The sun is high, up in the sky.
Stand up, need to continue to move forward,
All it takes is one step at a time, one step at a time.

Don't let anyone pull you back, don't let anyone push you back
Move forward, walk, run, never give up
Spread your wings and fly, and touch the sky

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