Heart Ache Over Homelessness

Vision and willingness needed

Image by Leroy_Skalstad on Pixabey

My home is four blocks away from a freeway overpass. There’s a road coming from the freeway and a block or so away an access road back on. At the base of the exit road is a big intersection ruled by a traffice light. From that intersection travel anywhere is possible. Nearly every day on the corner at the intersection is a panhandler. Between the freeway and our neighborhood, he (it’s usually a man) gets a lot of traffic. I drive through there at least once a day.

The sight of the panhandler immediately irritates me. If the light is red, I am stuck there for some time when I just want to get out of there, get away from him with his sign. Yeah; I know he’s just trying to survive and this must help or he would not be out there. How humiliating it must be to realize that you must panhandle! When I am not irritated, I can realize the guy might have been the recipient of my prison outreach activities no so long ago.

It’s not that I have no empathy or generosity. I have made goody bags and kept them in the car to give in just such situations. They held a pair of dark-colored socks, hygiene items, food that could last without spoiling, and the like.

In our city as in many cities today, there are many homeless encamplments. They are under freeway overpasses, in parks, and any available spot. Why doesn’t our community deal with this human suffering? By dealing with it, I mean something beyond providing more reasonably clean port-a-potties or having bigger soup kitchens. I mean coming to grips with the exorbitantly high cost of housing in my fair state of California, for instance. There; I’ve named it: California, home of Silicon Valley and the tech boom, of Hollywood and the movie industry and housing prices that are out of sight.

I have a long time friend who is blessed with lots of money from clever investments by the generation before her. For most of the time when we were close, she mainly enjoyed her money. We shared singer-songwriter fandom, writing poetry and songs together, adventures in channeling, devotion to Swamiji who taught us Vedanta, Christmas on her farm and delight in all the animals there — a llama, a donkey named Eeyore, sheep, peacocks, horses both miniature and full size, fancy chickens, Scottish deerhounds, Labrador retrievers and cats, of course, to catch the mice.

Her family thought she ought to be making some money with her money and gave her a hard time about not doing so. One day she bought an apartment house. She told me that I should buy one too because it brought in a nice income. I reminded her that I did not have her treasure chest. Next best, she thought, would be to buy a duplex or fourplex so that I could have rental income.

From my description, you can tell that my friend was not a dead ringer for a greedy landlord. She was happy that she finally found a way to make some money from her wealth. I’m sure she did not aim to charge as much as possible for rent but whatever the cost was to live in her building, it was probably too much for the folks living in encampments to pay.

I suspect that most owners of residental property are like my friend. They are not mean or greedy. They want to make money on their investment, just as she does. Prodded by local and state government, landlords have considered and are providing a percentage of their residences at lower rent. That’s good and the need is so much greater than has been done so far..

I know some people who have been homeless or nearly so for many years. At a church service recently there was a man there who used to attend Swamiji’s lectures when my friend, the apartment house owner, and I attended them. Come to think of it, since he was an attendee at the talks, devotees no doubt gave him great places to stay in their homes. This man is a math genius. All this time he has lived on the edge of homelsssness. I also know a woman with two children who has been homelsss for decades. Their presence on the planet reminds me that some people are homeless by choice or due to some mental illness or both. Most people living in those encampments don’t have mental illness. They just can’t afford the high rents in the buildings surrounding them. Due to the stress of being homeless, some of them become mentally ill or drug addicted. A very small percentage of the unhoused were mentally ill before becoming homeless and were unable to deal with life as it is.

Tech firms like Google, Apple and Facebook have pledged $4.5 billion to build affordable housing in California. The New York Times has an article explaining why this sum is not enough. California has made building housing so expensive that a single unit costs $450,00. More than property owners share responsibility for the panhandler on the street..

Later today, I’ll go to my favorite library to work on my book. Libraries have become day centers for the homeless. Can they discover new interests in the books or magazine surrounding them, something to lift their spirits and reveal the new vision for their lives? The real power is within each of us, whether we live in a tent or a beautiful home. When will we as a community have had enough?

To read more by Aikya, click here.

Aikya Param is a licensed minister, a visual artist, and writer.

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