That was the topic of this past Sunday’s NBC News’ Dateline program. Its title was “City of Angels” and it highlighted the growing epidemic of homelessness that affects half a million Americans. The program’s primary focus was Los Angeles, the “City of Angels.”
Other portions of the program showed California residents in the San Fernando Valley and the city of Venice struggling with the influx of homeless people into residential neighborhoods. California is not unique. Homelessness occurs in cities across the country.
Terry and I watched the program from the kitchen table in our safe, secure, and comfortable home while eating leftover grilled ribeye for Sunday dinner. Needless to say, our comfort turned to discomfort and dismay as we watched and listened to only a few of the residents of Skid Row, which the program described as the nation’s epicenter of homelessness.
Being homeless is not only inconvenient, it’s also dangerous and life threatening. In addition to living on the street under a tent or tarp or cardboard box, homeless people also have inadequate food, clothing, medical care, sanitary facilities, safety, and security.
Homeless people become so not by choice but by circumstance. Some end up on the streets because they’re hooked on heroin or other addictive substances. Others had a medical emergency or a special needs child and lost their job. They live paycheck to paycheck, if there is a paycheck, and can’t afford a security deposit, home mortgage, or other living expenses.
In addition to looking at the root causes of homelessness in and around Los Angeles, Dateline interviewed men and women who have dedicated their lives to helping people who live on the street find permanent housing. It’s a growing problem with few simple solutions.
Full transparency requires admitting that my primary contact with homeless people is when I stop at a traffic light in Austin or Houston or San Antonio or other cities in Texas and beyond. Cardboard signs are held in sun burned hands by shabbily dressed men and disheveled women. Some signs say “Veteran” or “Hungry” or “Homeless” or “God bless you!”
My response? Nine times out of ten I reach in my car’s console for an envelope full of one dollar bills, take one out of the envelope, lower my driver’s side window, hand it to the outstretched and grateful hand, say “God bless you” and catch up with the vehicles that have left me behind.
It’s not much. Maybe I should do more. I do. I do pray for the person whose life has intersected momentarily with mine. But in a few moments that man or woman is out of sight, out of mind.
Could municipalities, counties, states, our nation, its churches and social service agencies make a difference with strategic collaboration? I have to believe the answer is yes. How about you?