When we envision a homeless person, we tend to have a specific image in mind of what that person looks like, what they do or don’t do, who they are. We revert almost automatically to the simple stereotypes that we are so familiar with. We think things like: unclean, dirty, drunk or high, unemployed and looking for handouts. They sleep on the streets, probably under bridges and on park benches, and some of them might go to shelters. They might be violent, dangerous even. If you give them a handout, they will just go spend it on alcohol or drugs.
What we often fail to acknowledge during this thought process is the person. We can get so caught up in stereotypes, that we forget that we are even capable of looking beyond them.
April is BCO's Awareness Month. Why April? Because even though the sun is out, it's getting warmer, winters sleep is over, and new life is budding, life on the streets still remains a struggle.
Survey says: The likelihood of you finishing this read without a picture or video to stimulate you is very slim.The likelihood of you liking or sharing is a fraction of that. That's okay! If this resonates with one soul enough to create the awareness needed to stimulate action, then it has served its purpose.
At BCO, our agenda remains the same throughout the year: to bring awareness to poverty and the crisis of homelessness; to support existing shelters with clothing and toiletries throughout the year; and to work diligently on our longterm goal of a housing-first strategy in transitional housing.
Let's create a dialogue about what the reality is living on the streets. For instance, the number of men over 46 years of age that are currently homeless has increased 440% in the past 16 years. The average life span of a homeless individual is only 57 years old. This is staggering! These are our sons, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. And this is just a single example of one demographic living on the streets.
What happens? How do you become homeless? Why don't you get a job? These questions are filled with explanations that are in some cases deeper than than the initial thought. Some explanations include mental illness, addictions, job loss, economic downturns, disability, low income, domestic abuse, family alienation, racial segregation, runaways, death of a family member, LGBTQ prejudice...and the list goes on.
Homelessness doesn't go away when the sun comes out and temperatures rise. It remains. It is still a challenge trying to get a bed at a local shelter. It is still cold in the middle of the night sleeping on a bench/ground/stairwell. Clothes are still needed, food is still needed, hope is still needed, help is still needed.
This is the reality. The needs remain the same and the homeless population is increasing. So what can we do?
We can be aware and spread awareness (you can start by simply sharing this post). We can create a dialogue within our communities. We can show support to individuals on the streets by volunteering, donating, and above all showing respect and treating everyone with kindness and equality no matter what path they may presently be on.
We can stop being uncomfortable about the conversation, and stop feeling guilty about not doing anything by starting to do something, no matter what that something looks like.
We can stop and look in the eyes of a homeless individual and truly see a person, a life, a soul worthy of respect and kindness.
We can look at family members that didn't fit the family model and now may be on the streets and rethink past decisions and use education as a tool to repair.
The only thing we can't do is turn away--walk on the other side of the street, ignore because it doesn't involve us, because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We must realize homelessness does involve all of us, because we are all one.
Take the first step by liking and sharing this post to help us raise awareness of homelessness all year round, and donate to your local shelters or contact BCO (or stop by any of BCO's affiliate companies) to drop off your summer clothing and personal hygiene items so that together we can make a difference in our communities this spring season.
We are a charitable organization based in Alberta, Canada. We are devoted to helping the homeless through various fundraising events, clothing and essentials drives, and our eventual goal is transitional housing.