During the 1950s and ’60s they were the winos, the “derelicts” who had had one too many drinks or got tripped up on drugs, the ones who somehow lost their grip and fell through the cracks of society. Most people never stopped to ask their stories, although when they did, most of them were pretty much the same.
Somewhere along the line they became the Homeless. Most people still don’t ask, but the stories are not quite the same.
Homelessness has hit the middle class.
Statistics on homelessness in America are hard to find. In 2005, midway through George W. Bush’s second term, the official estimate was 774,000, although that number was almost certainly “socially engineered.” No one has bothered to count since, but considering that unemployment levels are holding at record levels and as many as 20 million undocumented workers are sucking up the “jobs Americans won’t do,” the figure must be staggering.
To be fair, perhaps one reason statistics are so vague is because no one wants to talk about it. Homelessness in the middle class is, for baby boomers who were raised to believe that anyone could achieve the “American Dream,” the ultimate shame.
The New Homeless are the silent disgrace of our modern society. They are the family we’ve lost touch with, the friend who was always there but somehow disappeared; they are Us in two years, if an unexpected illness strikes or we lose our job. The Us we don’t dare think about. For the first time, organizations like the Salvation Army are servicing a new clientele.
Ironically, it may be said that the derelict of old has a leg up on the New Homeless. He has learned how to get a free meal at Pizza Hut and shower at a truck stop; many of the “indigenous” homeless long ago discarded the social proprieties that we all live by and hold on to as the badges of our respectability. The derelicts have learned to work the “system.”
Short of a business-friendly administration and Congress, a solution for homelessness among middle-class Americans does not exist. Jobs are what they do. And without them many in the middle class find themselves too “wealthy” for most government assistance and too poor to survive without it.
So what does one do who finds him or herself either homeless or teetering on the brink?
First, don’t loose hope. Hope and faith are the paths to recovery.
Secondly, there are organization that can and will help; some are local, others are regional or national charitable funds, but they are there. Seek them out.
Non-government-subsidized charities are perhaps the best resources for the New Homeless, simply because they don’t want anything in return. They don’t require a ream of government forms and red tape and often they can offer stabilizing assistance and aid in organizing a comeback.
Think creatively. The average person has skills they don’t realize they possess: engineers are born fixit men. If you were a successful sales rep, you got that way because you could sell a Hawaiian shirt to an Eskimo. Your DVD collection, old computer software, tech manuals, books-almost anything is salable. Find something to sell, and sell, sell, sell!
Lastly, when it seems all hope is lost, remember Al Franken; if he can get a job, there is hope for anyone.
My final point: Keep your sense of humor.