True Survivors Exist on the Streets Everyday

Commentary by Pamela Vincent

             I was intrigued with the concept of the TV series “Survivor.”  You know the one where the groups of people from various walks of life are thrown together on a desert island.  For several months the group lives with the bare minimum necessities and lots of daily challenges.  They have to deal with whatever comes their way without tools, or the safety and comforts of home.  Be it dealing with the Island’s environment, weather conditions, the attitudes of their fellow islander’s or learning how to forage for their next meal.  They are there to meet the challenge and hopefully win the $1,000,000.00 prize for being the best survivor.

             It strikes me as ironic that this reality show was staged for TV when all the producers of the show needed to do was look to the streets of any metropolitan city to find of thousands of real life survival stories – homeless people.  For our homeless population the only prize is another day of more of the same.

             Consider this, a homeless person’s entire day is spent trying to meet their most basic needs.  Theorist Abraham Maslow described man’s basic needs in terms of a hierarchy, where the first need has to be fulfilled before evolving to the next.  The first level being physiological comfort followed by the need for safety.  When you think about it these are pretty basic needs and ones most of us take for granted or don’t think a lot abut unless reminded.

             For example if we’re hungry we go to the cupboard, refrigerator, or grocery store for food.  None of these examples are options for them.  If we’re cold we turn on the heat or put on warmer clothes.  A Homeless person’s entire day is spent trying to fulfill the very first need, to be fed, warm, and comfortable.  The need to lie down and sloop in a safe place relieve themselves privately when necessary, or even to get a drink of water when they’re thirsty.

             Consider the second need of safety.  How safe would you feel if you had to sleep in an alley next to a garbage dumpster or in a cardboard box under a bridge?  I doubt that any of us would be able to sleep under those grave conditions for fear of the unknown.  The homeless person also carries their few precious belongings with them wherever they go.  It is al they own so they cling to those items.  They are constantly on the move everyday searching for comfort, a handout, a warm meal, and a place to rest where they can be left alone and not told to “move along.”

             My question is “what is being done to help the homeless?”  They are a part of our community; they are “our” homeless people, yours and mine.  Each one has their own sad reason for being where they are now.  Some of them may be mentally ill and unable to care for themselves.  Some may have experienced dire straights or unexpected hardships that life tends to throw all of us from time to time.  Some of us recover and get back on our feet.  Some of us end up homeless.  How close are some of us to being homeless ourselves?  One paycheck, maybe two, away from living on the streets?  How well can some of us prepare for the unexpected?

             The thought of it makes us uncomfortable.  Homeless people make us uncomfortable.  We look away, we try not to think “what if” that happened to me?  What would we do, where would we turn for help?  Would you want someone to reach out to you, to not forget you?  Or would you be too proud to ask for help, as I’m sure many homeless are?

             I wonder why as a community we’re not doing more to help our homeless?  I don’t know of any city that doesn’t have a vacant building that could be made into a shelter.  Why is there a shortage of shelters and beds or even affordable housing for those trying to bet back on their feet?  Shouldn’t this be as much of a priority as building new stadium’s or hotels downtown?  Could you be the one to turn a homeless family away from an overcrowded shelter when it’s below zero outside?”  Why are we not taking care of and helping our own?

             I am taking this moment to challenge everyone, myself, the mayor, all the residents of this city, or anyone who reads this article, to do more, to give something back to help the homeless community.  Be it a small gesture or large, the gift of time, money, or self.  The rewards will come back in blessings and God’s grace.  Let us not forget these true survivors.

             Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #47 -2001