The other day I heard someone say that when she grew up there were no homeless people. "Why can't we go back to the way it was then?" she asked. Well first of all, she was wrong. Homelessness is not new. The woman pictured to the left is Lucille Ball in a scene from The Stone Pillow, a motion picture she made about homelessness late in her career. That was almost thirty years ago and in publicity for the movie Lucy said she recalled the homeless situation from her youth and wanted to shed some light.
People with no place to live have often been outcasts, but there have also been people who care. In 1872, Jerry and Maria McAuley founded the New York City Rescue Mission. It became this country's first rescue mission, providing spiritual hope, food, clothing and shelter to the needy in New York City.
Things got much worse during the Great Depression of the 1930s with a devastating epidemic of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and mental illness. Many needy people, mostly men, would hop freight trains and go from town to town looking for help.
Shelters have sprung up over the years, mostly in larger cities, but these are usually nighttime shelters that require their guests to leave in the morning with nowhere to go. How can you look for a job wearing the same dirty clothes you had on yesterday and with no place to be contacted?
Here in San Francisco the health department created Project Homeless Connect ten years ago, as a way to bring services to the homeless. It continues to reshape its outreach strategy and improve available services with clients being exposed to HIV testing, medical care, addiction services, legal advice, dental care, mental health services, and so much more.
There are organizations all over the world that help the homeless populations in their areas. Some programs are wildly successful. No program has brought an end to homelessness. It isn't new. It isn't gone. It probably will be with us for some time. We all can help though. Check out the two places I mentioned (the New York City Rescue Mission HERE or Project Homeless Connect HERE) for a couple of excellent places to start.