Written by Abi Humber Wednesday, 29 August 2007 11:17
This summer, as well last spring and the past two summers, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with the homeless during week-long trips to Los Angeles.
I realized that each person on the streets has a story, a time before he or she was homeless, and an individual reason for being so.
I heard inspiring stories of hard-working families who were supporting themselves and living independently of any organizations—despite all the odds and daily hardships.
The more time I was able to spend with those people, the more my passion for helping them grew. I desperately want to be able to make a difference in the lives of hurting people, whether that means serving them a meal, building them a house, helping them with schoolwork, or just listening to them share about their lives.
The purpose of this article isn’t to give a list of “Five Things You Can Do To Change The World, And Shame On You If You Don’t Care About This As Much As I Do.”
My point is to inform people of how huge this problem really is, and that poverty is not just in the big cities, it is right here in Marion County. So as you read this, keep an open mind.
Los Angeles is known both as America’s First Third World City and the world’s future financial capital. Ironic, don’t you think? The one thing that never ceases to amaze me each time I visit Los Angeles is how close in proximity the filthy rich are to the dirt poor.
If you were to drive through the financial district of L.A., you would probably feel incredibly small as you passed by enormous banks, world-class hotels, and skyscraping law firms.
You might stop to admire the exquisite fountains in the Watercourts at the California Plaza, and possibly envy the extravagantly rich occupants of that loaded Hummer limousine as it smoothly rolls down the sparkling street.
But follow that ridiculously clean street for just two more blocks, and you’ll think you’ve been transported into another dimension.
Grimy, urine-stained sidewalks replace those carefully groomed ones. Million-dollar hotels with luxurious sleeping quarters are now Skid Row Hotels, in which living conditions are marginal at best.
Multiple families are often jammed into single-occupancy rooms, cockroaches and rats scurry across sleeping bodies—and the cost of rent is still ludicrously high.
On every corner you’ll find a beggar, on every street, children tightly gripping their mother’s hand in fear, and under every tattered blanket, a broken spirit.
After reading that, a lot of people may empathize momentarily with those “hopeless” people…and then push those depressing thoughts aside and move on with life.
At least, that’s what I wanted to do. Thinking there are such monumental problems in this world makes me feel extremely tiny. And it’s not like anything I can do would help anyway, right?
Homelessness isn’t just “way over there.” It’s right here in Marion County. Hard to think about, isn’t it?
Granted, it’s not in the same form. You won’t walk down Main Street and see a woman shivering under a threadbare blanket or a man lying in what I can only describe as a cardboard coffin.
But those who dare to look closer will learn that 16 percent of the children under the age of 18 in Marion County live below the poverty line, and an additional 10 percent live at or just above that line, according to the 2007 Kansas Kids Count Data.
In 2007, a family of four living at the poverty line would earn $1,720 a month. Once basic expenses like rent, groceries, utilities, car insurance, gas for the car, car payments and health insurance are taken out, they end up with more month than money.
And that’s before any other costs are added, such as school supplies, new clothes or field trip and lunch money for the kids—not to mention that no money can be saved for emergencies and no money is left to afford further education.
Basically, most people end up with very few ways to obtain the resources needed to improve their life on their own.
With a budget that tight, families either learn to live without or get into debt they can never get out of. These people may feel stuck; thinking there is no way to get help, no way to break the pattern, and no one who really cares.
See, these are people who struggle to get through their day just as much as the “homeless” in Los Angeles do…and they are within 10 minutes from our houses.
As I said before, the purpose of this article was to inform about the needs around us, not to ramble off a huge list of all the things we “should be doing.”
While the Salvation Army, United Way, Bigs In Schools, Communities In Schools and many other programs and organizations provide great ways to help out, there is something you could do every minute of every day: Now that you know what kind of problems are all around us, when you see someone in a situation similar to those listed above, don’t look the other way.
Take time to help someone out. Maybe you can’t help everyone, but to that one person, it will make all the difference.