By BARBARA ANDERSON
Local guest columnist
Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite time of year. It is a time of sharing and giving.
It’s not because we are celebrating the birth of Christ or a president’s birthday or the Fourth of July, but because we truly are reaching out as a people because we need each other. That is the whole premise of Thanksgiving — sharing, a need to belong to something bigger, and a time when all family feels welcome.
You should see Thanksgiving through the eyes of the people who live in our homeless shelter. It really isn’t any different than anyone else’s, it’s just that family is a house full of strangers. Yet on Thanksgiving day itself, those 78 people will be like everybody else in America. They will watch the parade, watch the games, probably fuss a little, bake turkey, eat too much, and sleep. It will be remarkably like anybody else’s house in Jeffersonville times 78, often interesting and always a reminder.
It reminds me of the reasons all of us should be grateful and happy, because we can go home. It reminds that battles are worth fighting if they are for the common good. It reminds me of the need in all of us to belong.
On the night I wrote this, I made a presentation to the afterschool program at Parkview Middle School with Michelle from Communities in Schools of Clark County. The students ranged in age from 11 to 13. They asked remarkable questions and really cared about what we thought. They had gathered 20 backpacks for us with water, personal hygiene products, some other necessities and wanted to present it to us.
We discussed homelessness and what it meant. Surprisingly, when I asked questions, their answers were simple. They knew that people became homeless because they lost their jobs; drugs and alcohol; mental illness; domestic violence; poverty; and physical illnesses. They wanted to know the ages of the homeless and were shocked to hear the youngest is 18 months old and the oldest is 72. They didn’t realize so many of the homeless population worked.
One little girl was very articulate and asked many questions. I said, “you discuss this with your mom a lot don’t you?” She said yes, because her mom wanted her to study hard and to build a life that wouldn’t result in homelessness. You can only do that to the degree that you have total control in your life. Unfortunately, bosses, illnesses, money, and just plain life sometimes get in the way.
I find it interesting that this community is studying and developing a plan yet one more time around the issue of homelessness. Not for the first time, but for the fifth time, a plan to end and deal with affordable housing and homelessness is being developed.
This time, it comes at a cost of $30,000. The last time — two years ago — it was about that much. In the region nine years ago, it was $90,000; prior to that $75,000; and before that, I’m not sure but it was several thousand dollars. Each time it was studied and the results tabled. Almost every time the same conclusions happened, and they will again. Homelessness cannot be resolved without resources. Period.
We need affordable housing, we need health care, we need specialized housing, we need programs that will result in families that are healthy and whole. Even more than that, we need the courage to implement the plans that are developed. We cannot wait.
It is critical to those who live in our shelter or sleep outdoors or travel from couch to couch to live. We must understand it will take all of us to do that, not just providers but employers, churches, and even more importantly, each other.
We look sadly at people collecting money at the overpasses, but we shouldn’t. Many, if not all, will not do right with the money. We feel badly knowing that many are in the shelter and feeling isolated and lonely. Action is not just something we can do two or three times a year. It is something we must do more.
We need to let our legislators know that affordable housing is something we must have. We need to say to them we will not support you if you continue to cut food stamps and critical programs while people are literally sending their children to bed hungry.
That means a lot here because our employment numbers are high. It means many are working for a nonliving wage. Working and homeless are words that have no business together, just as homeless and a veteran do not.
Our poor have a need for services or subsidies. A country that is compassionate will plan for that, while ours does not.
Winston Churchill once noted that a country should be judged by the way it treats its poor. In this country, we would have a lot of explaining to do.
This Thanksgiving as we give thanks, we must become more proactive in serving those who need us most.
— Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org