Over 12 years ago I was given an amazing opportunity to work with a prominent organization in Portland, Oregon serving individuals struggling with homelessness and substance abuse. Prior to my time there my life was focused on raising children in my small community in Clark County, Washington. While my life had been affected by substance abuse, I didn’t know much about homelessness. Little did I know how my time with Union Gospel Mission would change my life forever.
Growing up in a small town I rarely saw anyone sleeping on the streets. On the occasion we ventured in Portland, I would watch out my window as we drove past people sleeping on the cold sidewalks, in doorways, or standing at the side of the road with a sign, hoping someone would drop some change in their bucket so they could eat that night.
Like many, I was afraid of what I didn’t know or understand.
The day came when reality hit like a ton of bricks. A close family member became homeless due to her heroin addiction. I was angry that drugs were more important than her family. I couldn’t grasp what would drive her to such a place.
Enter UGM. The first day I visited the mission I was greeted with smiles, laughter, and more unconditional love than I had ever known. I heard story after story from some of the sweetest people I’ve met. Stories of severe childhood abuse, leaving them so broken they had no hope for a “normal” life, so they turned to drugs to calm their broken spirits. Others shared their “normal” upbringing, trying meth one time, only to find themselves lost in addiction. Others suffered from severe mental health issues — depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or others — leaving them feeling so hopeless they didn’t know where to turn, so they turned to a life on the streets.
I realized how wrong I was to judge what I could not grasp.
Like many of you reading this post, I let my pre-conceived judgements color my view of some of the most amazing people I have ever known.
Today the homeless populations across our nation are rising. There are multiple reasons for this, the most prominent is lack of affordable housing and the rising numbers of those living in poverty. In the coming weeks I will share stories of people I’ve talked with who share the stereotypical views of those living on our streets. I will dispel the top five myths, share stories from those I know who’ve lived without a home, and I will give you the information and resources you need to make a difference in your community.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the homeless crisis affects us all.
It may be through a family member (like mine), bumping into a former classmate (this happened to a friend of mine), or an unknown face staring blankly into space as they sit on the side of the road hoping for enough change to buy a burger before bed.
We are surrounded by the stark reality of their pain every day.
My hope is to raise awareness and inspire you to be a part of the solution. I look forward to some great conversations in the weeks ahead!
Keeping it real,