When hurricane Harvey hit and flooded many cities in Texas, Americans reached out to help one another. Then when hurricane Irma hit Florida and Puerto Rico a few short days later, Americans organized fundraisers, volunteered to help with demolition and repairs, and helped out in the various ways that they could. Musicians, artists and former presidents led events to raise money for people who lost their homes, were without power, and those that needed water and food.
Americans are generous and compassionate people.
What doesn’t make sense considering Americans generosity and willingness to help, is the ongoing homeless crisis in Southern California. Thousands of people are without shelter and have food insecurity. They are without access to medical treatment or clean water, or bathrooms. These people living on the sidewalks, back alleys, parks, and deserted lots of our towns and cities are Americans, too. Many of them are veterans. Many of them are mentally ill. What makes their plight less important to big-hearted Americans?
I guess many people believe the homeless are somehow to blame for their circumstances. No one can blame someone for a tornado, a hurricane, a wildfire or an earthquake. But the loss of a job, alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness? I think we see fault in that and our purse strings tighten, our heart slams shut, we don’t identify with those who have fallen on hard times or are struggling with a mental illness or addiction. Who likes the confrontation of the wild-eyed man screaming profanities in the middle of the sidewalk in broad daylight? Who wants to look in the eyes of the dirty, matted hair woman as she asks you for the money to buy coffee, or pay for a bus fare, or help her get a meal?
I know it is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me, too, and I can see myself in their fear or their screaming on the street. I know severe mental illness. I know psychosis. I know voices. I know being on the outside going in one direction while everyone else seems to be oblivious to you and traveling the opposite way.
Ironically, one of the largest homeless encampments – people living under blue tarps and in tents for blocks and blocks and blocks is approximately ten miles from Hollywood. Hollywood, where billions of dollars are made every year and millions are spent on award shows, dresses, jewelry, all the pageantry. So many of the celebrities in our country live within miles of this suffering, and yet, there are no special concerts, no special screenings, no events where the funds go to funding and finding a solution for all of the people that make a bed out of concrete, a bench or dirt.
I’m thankful that I live in a nation where people open their wallets during tragedies and help people that they don’t know. It is so uplifting that there are so many stories of everyday heroes when so many people are in need. I only wish we were all equally important and worth saving, comforting and lending a hand.