The economy is thriving. From the stock markets to the June 2018 U.S. Jobs Report, economic data is “as good as it gets” (CNBC Jul 6, 2018). In our own city, the leading economic indicator is the welcome return of the Nevada State Bird, with construction cranes swooping in and around the new Raiders Stadium, Resorts World, strip malls in Chinatown, and apartment buildings from Henderson to West Tropicana.
And yet, the 2018 economy doesn’t appear to have a place for everyone: there seem to be more homeless people in our city parks, behind shopping centers and on nearly every street corner than ever before.
Every day, locals and tourists alike see far too many people who remain disconnected from not just the economy, but from modern society and the requirements to be one of its members.
Today I would like to address homelessness from the local point of view, and offer something that you and I can do about it.
As Simon Sinek suggests, each of should “Start With Why?” when addressing any challenge. Have you ever asked yourself why the homeless is a problem for you, or why you want to help the homeless?
One person’s why may come from compassion for humans – and all too often, their pets – when seeing them suffering in the heat. Another’s why could be “safety for my children” during a family trip to the park. Someone with the responsibility of a business or property may see the homeless as an additional risk, or a deterrent to sales and their livelihood. Some people just refuse to go to the same shopping centers, Starbuck’s or fast-food restaurants after the barrage of begging they experienced last time.
And every why is valid, whether yours is compassion, safety, livelihood or peace. Which leaves the question, “Is there something each of us can do that can help the homeless situation, and maybe lessens the problem, or at least that doesn’t contribute to it?” You and I both know people who thought they were helping someone and their good deed led to more dependency, more blame, and more clean-up. Your question is a good one.
In 20 years as an active philanthropist, educational program developer and today, as a homelessness prevention consultant, I’ve helped tens of thousands of adults and youth overcome homelessness, and one-on-one interventions are without question the most difficult. I’ve felt as overwhelmed as the next person by the sheer number of homeless people – and in all new areas of the city – and particularly by the many young people flooding the streets in the last few years. My heart aches, though the mission remains the same.
The best way I believe everyone can help is more an “awareness” strategy than a “tactical” one.
For anyone who’s tried to help someone languishing on a street corner, in a park or behind a shopping center, you have probably discovered that they are not just years or sometimes decades behind the economy…they are the same person they were those many years ago. It’s as if they are “lost in time”, like men and women from 1995 or 1985 who have awakened to discover it’s 2018, even if their exterior has shown the wear and tear of the missing years.
Subsequently, everything they think is based on a mindset that expects the world to be like it was, money to be as easy to make as it was, and you and I to be as we were. They often expect to be able to pick right back up where they left off or get that old job back. And when it doesn’t work out, they stop trying.
They need help catching up, and often, growing up, at a faster rate than the world is advancing.
You and I know we must advance every single day just to keep from falling behind to society’s requirements and its incredible speed of change.
You and I also know that we cannot change a homeless person’s mind or mindset – or growth them up – through a one-in-one interaction any more than you can change a teenager’s mind with a one-minute pep-talk. How did that work when you were a teen? When a parent or authority figure told your teenage self what you even knew you should do, you probably still caved to the opposite advice from your peer group of fellow teens.
I suggest, then, that the best way to help those stuck both in homelessness – and in a teenage-mindset – to break free and catch up is to deliver the information they need to all the teens at once. We must endeavor to get the homeless we see and the peers they trust in the same class, at the same time, with the same lessons we learned that helped us become the earners, learners and contributors we are today.
For the homeless you see around your city, regardless of your why, here are three awareness reminders:
- Remember that, in spite of their challenging exteriors, conversations and behaviors, they are human beings first.
- Remember that our goal is to help them break free from homelessness, not just feel better about their struggles. Whatever you do – or don’t do – should help either free them from their past or motivate them toward their future selves.
- Remember also that, more often than not, there is a teenager inside them that needs to grow up, and they won’t grow up unless we get their fellow lost boys and girls in the same classroom to receive the same educational experience together at the same time.
©2018 Tiger Todd