Volunteers Discuss Memories of Homelessness: Speakers Share Personal Experiences

by   Posted on December 1st, 2009 in Uncategorized

Ethan Vaughan, Connect2Mason Reporter

Faces of Homelessness, a program highlighting homelessness awareness, was held in the Patriots Lounge in Student Union Building I on Monday, Nov. 16.

The event, carried out in cooperation with Lutheran Campus Ministry and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), featured a video presentation and several guest speakers, including two individuals currently experiencing homelessness.

The focus of the gathering was to raise public knowledge of the issue and to dispel some of the stereotypes surrounding it.

NCH volunteer Johnny Bell said Americans should take notice of homelessness, which he cited as a growing threat to communities nationwide.

“Homelessness is increasing,” Bell said. “There are more homeless people this year than there were last year. Currently, there are three million homeless people in this country every day, and about 700,000 [on the streets] each night. Those figures are climbing.”

Bell challenged what he said was a faulty view of the homeless as lazy people unwilling to work.

“The largest . . . segment of the homeless population [is] families,” Bell said. “Families, not individual men and women, but families with dependent children, account for 40 percent of all homeless people. In the D.C. [metro] area in 2009, there are 12,000 homeless people, while in Washington itself there are 6,000, or just over 1 percent of the population. That’s a decrease of 400 individuals, but an increase of 700 families.”
Bell attributed the rise in the homeless population, specifically the rise in homeless families, to the foreclosures, mass layoffs and overall economic crisis.

“The main cause of homelessness right now is affordable housing,” Bell said. “There are people who have jobs but are still homeless because housing is so expensive. In the Washington, D.C. area you have to be making over $24 an hour to pay rent in an apartment at fair market price.”

Alan Banks, a 50-year-old former professional, spoke to the audience about his slide into homelessness, underscoring that people living on the streets often come from backgrounds far different than many would assume.

“There are many stereotypes about homeless people,” Banks said. “That they’re lazy, or criminal, or people with addiction problems. I wasn’t like that. I made $175,000 a year. I had a car, a boat, a big house, many nice toys, and for a long time I didn’t tell people about that past because I was ashamed at having lost it all.”

Banks told of how his debilitating depression led him to lose his job and how, through irresponsible spending, he quickly went through his savings accounts.

“A month after I lost my job, I was on the street,” Banks said. “Before, I never asked myself or wondered how homeless people survived. Joke’s on me.”

Banks eventually recognized that he handled his money unwisely, then took steps to right his life.
Through a program offered by a local homeless shelter, he found a job, started saving money and moved into a small apartment.

A robbery attempt during which he was shot, however, resulted in injuries to his hand that required several surgeries and extensive physical therapy.

“After 18 months, my health care bills had come to $184,000,” he said.

“So then, even though I’d saved, even though I’d worked hard, I was homeless again. We’re in a country that’s filled with people who have done things the right way,” said Banks.

“People are saving money, paying their bills, and then the economy tanks and they don’t have jobs.
‘Becoming homeless again was very hard for me. I just kept thinking, ‘I’ve done it the right way. I can’t understand why God is doing this to me,’” said Banks.

Banks also noted that finding employment is not as easy for the homeless as it is sometimes made out to be.

“It’s hard to apply for a job if the address you have to put down is a homeless shelter,” he said. “They don’t want to hire you. It’s hard when you can’t give them a phone number, because you don’t have a phone.”
Bell concurred with Banks.

“The difference between those who become homeless and those who don’t is whether they can afford the unexpected.”

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