Homelessness During the Christmas Season

You're fast asleep in your warm bed when you hear a noise. Your children burst into the room and try to convince you--successfully--to start the day. They drag you out of bed and down the stairs before you can even wipe the sleep from your eyes. The lights on the tree are blinking in syncopation with each other and the ornaments are basking in the glow. The kids are so full of energy that you wonder where they got it from . . . even the dogs are excited!

Not everybody has a warm bed on Christmas (or any other day for that matter). Someone will be crawling out from under a cardboard box in an alleyway, somebody will sleeping under a bridge or an overpass, and somebody will be sleeping in a homeless shelter (he's the lucky one). A warm bed is something we take for granted on a daily basis.

A good night sleep is very hard to pull off when you're homeless. You're never completely asleep when you are living on the streets, every little noise wakes you, and if you live in a city like Atlanta, it never sleeps . . . it just takes a nap. You sleep with one-eye open because you never know what is going to happen. I know people who have been attacked at night by kids who had nothing better to do. I know people who were beaten and robbed at night in their sleep. The night is the most vulnerable time for the homeless, but it isn't just a warm bed they miss.

Food is a big part of the Christmas celebration for Americans; turkey and ham are the main dishes for Christmas dinner. It is usually served with potatoes and carrots, cranberry sauce, gravy, and rolls and everything in between; all foods are fair game. Christmas dinner is usually followed by a big dessert: Pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato pie. Everything is washed down with wine, beer, or if you live in the South or you are just a misplaced Southerner, an endless supply of sweet tea.

As for the homeless, unless there is a church or a mission or a nonprofit feeding the poor and the homeless, then a hot meal is nothing but a dream. Rummaging through dumpsters looking for discarded food or a half-eaten sandwich will be a treat for some. A handout from a restaurant is a blessing. If I was lucky, I would have enough money to order a meal at the Waffle House and spend the night reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.

Those who have lived on the streets long enough knows the ins and outs of survival and getting a hot meal is a trick that is still hard to accomplish.

People live on the streets for many reasons, but very, very few live on the streets willingly. Many people are homeless because of drugs and alcohol, but this is a small minority of people. Many make the streets their home because they have a disability, a mental condition, or are a veteran with a war-related disability. Unemployment and under employment isn't the main cause of being homeless.

A huge majority of homeless people do work. Most people who are homeless have a job, so that cashier at the McDonald's or the bag boy at the local grocery store or even the college student may just be someone who is living on the street or in their car. Affordable housing, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness claims that affordable housing is the major reason for homelessness. Everybody should have a roof over their head and a place to sleep.

Christmas is not so special when you are homeless, it is just another day, another day of survival. There are no special days when living on the streets. They go by slowly and one day drags into the next. One week drags into the next week. One month drags into the next month. It's a vicious cycle that is hard to break. The longer a person lives on the street, the harder it is to get off the streets.

So, if you see somebody who is homeless this Christmas (or any time of the year), don't turn the other way. Say hello. Talk to them for a moment. Make them feel like a person.