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Homeless man sitting on cardboard on sidewalk.
My son and I were in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, last week to see one of our favorite local bands play on the rooftop of the Monona Terrace. As is my custom when I am downtown, we strolled over to the Parthenon for a gyro, walking across the square to get to State Street.

It was a hot day with the temperature hovering around 95 and very humid. Around the Capital Square every park bench was occupied. In front of every person sitting on a park bench were that person’s belongings. Some had suitcases, others had black garbage bags and one had a shopping cart.

As we neared the law enforcement memorial on the northeast side of the square a salt and pepper haired man looked up at us from the park bench he was sitting on and said wearily, “Don’t be homeless, man.” He then gathered his bag and walked down the sidewalk away from us.

He did not ask for a handout and it all happened so quickly I never even had a chance to consider giving him a couple of dollars. I do not know if his advice was for my son or me. I do not know what circumstances in his life put him on the street. I do know that he did not have the appearance of someone who had been homeless for a long period of time, his clothes were clean, his hair and beard neatly trimmed.

My son and I walked in silence for remainder of the walk to the restaurant. All I could think of was how easily I could end up homeless, really, how anyone could end up homeless today. One missed paycheck, one unexpected twist in life, a car accident, a slip and fall, or a serious illness could put anyone of us out in the streets.

While it is virtually impossible to get an accurate count of homeless people in the United States the numbers from the National Alliance to End Homelessness is probably the best estimate out there.

There are 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of that number, 239,403 are people in families, and 394,379 are individuals. Slightly fewer than 16 percent of the homeless population are considered "chronically homeless," and about 13 percent of homeless adults- 62,619 - are veterans.
“Don’t be homeless, man.”

I am certain that neither my son nor I will ever forget that chance meeting with a man on a park bench. I know those four words will be with me forever.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 01:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I laugh every time one of the right wingers (11+ / 0-)

    waxes on about American Exceptionalism, something we had in our distant history like highway building, space programs, affordable higher education.  Not sure what AE means these days in a nation whose people cannot afford shelter and who are prohibited from living in abandoned housing.  Perhaps if the homeless were to become ciphers for the messages of the 1%, like Hannity and others, they wouldn't be homeless, right?

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 01:56:39 PM PDT

  •  yeah - pretty easy to land there. I sometimes (8+ / 0-)

    refer to myself as homeless, which ticks off my one sister cuz i am living with my other sister and her family.  fact is, i lost my home - it is not (generally) my food in the fridge, it is not my tv to control, nor the heat and a/c (central a/c - i freeze all the time!), not my place to entertain (tho i am welcome to have friends in, they are all in other states - it would be a rare confluence of circumstances to have them come and stay), not up to me about a million other small things that one usually can control in their home enviornment.

    don't get me wrong - i am grateful and my sister and her husband are great.  thing is, i expected to be here, 6, 8 maybe 10 months - it is now 2.5 yrs.  some days I think of getting in my car, landing somewhere and starting over from truly scratch. lately, more and more often.

    "Don't Bet Against Us" - President Barack Obama

    by MRA NY on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 02:02:05 PM PDT

  •  One of the simplest but most helpful things (10+ / 0-)

    that could be done is to provide some kind of safe, secure, free or very low cost, minimal storage for the homeless, conveniently downtown. If you HAVE to walk around everywhere, it would lift a literal load off of their backs to not have to take everything you own everywhere you go.

    But the smallest closet space in a U-store-em type place is typically at least $50 a month. And don't get me started on the deck being stacked against you in default of storage rooms.

    "You can't run a country by a book of religion. Dumb all over, a little ugly on the side." Frank Zappa

    by Uosdwis on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 03:22:32 PM PDT

  •  An often overlooked contributor to becoming (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JamieG from Md, Dirtandiron

    a person without a home:

    Identifying Brain Injury in State Juvenile Justice, Corrections, and Homeless Populations

    In a Wisconsin study involving 90 homeless men, 80% were found to have evidence of cognitive impairment (Solliday-McRoy, et al., 2004). The author of a monolith on homeless and TBI not­ed that with regard to the over 3,000 comprehensive psychiatric evaluations of persons experiencing homelessness performed by the author, at least half reported histories of blows to the head sus­tained as the result of childhood physical abuse or motor vehicle crashes, falls, or sporting injuries (Highley and Proffitt, 2008).
    TBI and Homelessness
    The little research that exists on the subject suggests a high rate of mild and severe traumatic brain injury among homeless people. Among a group of 100 homeless men in a New York City shelter, researchers at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that eight out of ten reported a head injury that left them unconscious, prior to becoming homeless.

    In addition, a Canadian study by the Center for Inner City Health found that half of the homeless men and women surveyed reported experiencing a traumatic brain injury and one in 10 reported a severe head trauma.

    Among 2,000 homeless people questioned in Florida, one in four reported having a traumatic brain injury, according to a 2003 study by the Health Care for the Homeless Clinicians Network.

    From the "Homelessness Resource Center"

    Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Basics

    Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) upsets life on a physical, psychological, social, and even spiritual level. It can affect the ability to communicate and connect with other people. Combined with the loss of function to contribute to a wage-earning job, individuals are at a high risk of homelessness. Understanding the basics of TBI is the first step toward providing quality care.
    And this from the "National Low Income Housing Coalition"

    Homelessness Among Veterans Linked to Mental Disorders, Traumatic Brain Injuries and Sexual Trauma

    A new study conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) identifies mental illness and sexual trauma as major factors associated with an increased risk of homelessness among veterans. The study used data from the Department of Defense and the VA to estimate the incidence of homelessness among veterans. The study focused on about 300,000 veterans, ages 17 to 64, who accessed the Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs health care system after leaving the military, and who had never experienced homelessness before entering military service.

    The veterans in the study population left the military between June of 2005 and September of 2006, and nearly half of the study population served in either Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Veterans housing needs were tracked through their use of the health care system between the time of their release from military service and September of 2010. The study authors conclude that risk factors for homelessness include mental disorders, brain injury trauma, and sexual assault while serving in the military.

    According to the study, about 3.7% of all veterans experienced homelessness in the five years after leaving the military. Those that experienced homelessness were, on average, younger, and enlisted at a lower pay grade. Most significantly, mental disorder is the strongest predictor of homelessness among the veterans population. More than half of all homeless veterans had been diagnosed with a mental disorder before leaving the military, and the rate of diagnosis increased to more than 80% by the end of the study period in 2010, about twice the incidence rate found among non-homeless veterans. The majority of those diagnosed with mental disorders were diagnosed before they became homeless...

    (Some emphasis added)

    We have only just begun to examine the many causes that lead to having so many people without homes in this country.

    One might be moved to add, "Don't hit your head..."

    To this advice, “Don’t be homeless, man.”

    Thank you for sharing this poignant diary.

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