09/07/2012 02:46 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2012

Are You Sure You Really Want to Know?

A friend of mine running for public office once asked me what he could do for folks like me and although I know he means well, I don't think he has any idea of what he's really asking. For one thing, we need living wage jobs and plenty of them! Exactly how is that going to happen with the way things are in this economy? Second, if housing is recognized as a basic human right, then why isn't there enough of it to go around? I want my friend to actually spend time with struggling families living out of motels and cars first so that he can see homelessness as it really is instead of assuming what it is. Not many politicians are willing to do that and when they do, it's usually a photo op to make everyone think they're serious about doing something but once they get voted in, guess what happens?

I don't put much faith in campaign promises nor do I waste time attending meetings put on by groups claiming to end homelessness in x amount of years while spending more grant money on more meetings that do not provide more housing or at the very least, hotel vouchers to get people off the streets. What then is all that money being spent on? I suppose to those not experiencing it, poverty is one of those things that can be forgotten since after all, they just KNOW it's the individual's fault for not having a roof over their heads regardless of being laid off or being diagnosed with a terminal disease and finding out much too late that there isn't a safety net to catch you as you're falling into homelessness.

You know what's really scary? People with wacky notions in their heads running for office and getting voted in because they're the lesser of two evils or sadly, because the masses never bothered to get the facts on whatever a candidate claims and votes for them because "they sounded good." I actually got a comment not too long ago that the poor don't vote. I can say that just because I'm homeless doesn't mean I don't vote and I know a lot of other working poor folks who vote so that comment is out of touch. The other thing is, if you were constantly using all your energy to look for work, food and safe places to sleep at night, how much time would you be able to spend on listening to campaign promises from folks who have never been in your situation?

There's a major disconnected culture going on these days and I see it every time a car passes by one of my homeless youth begging for change to get something to eat. I see it when a mother sitting in a park with her kids bursts into tears while others pretend not to see her or bother to ask what's wrong. I hear it whenever someone makes a comment that "THOSE people choose homelessness as a lifestyle," as if using "those" in a sentence somehow makes you any different than a person experiencing homelessness. To the woman I met at a park that actually thinks homelessness is a choice I said this: "THOSE people are your friends, family and neighbors who fell on hard times. After going several years without help, how long do you think it will take before homelessness becomes a lifestyle?" The blank expression on her face told me that it never even occurred to her to think outside of what she assumed was the reality of homelessness. I see apathy whenever an employee taking a cigarette break outside the restaurant they work for casually says to me "Those guys over there at the park are nothing but a bunch of worthless bums. All they do is drink and I never see them looking for work." Again, I took the time to respond by saying "Yeah, those bums as you called them? I happen to know that one of them is a vet with an aneurysm in his head waiting for the VA to approve his surgery. He doesn't drink and lives in a tent hoping he wakes up the next day. That other guy you said you've never seen look for work? He used to be a successful real estate agent with a big house, family, nice cars, you name it, he had it. He got hit by a drunk driver on the way home from work and has brain damage now. He lost his home, his wife and family, his car and his hope. He can't get social security because he doesn't understand why he keeps getting denied and nobody is taking the time to help him out." Needless to say, the man's face turned purple as he put his cigarette out as he walked quietly back into the restaurant.

It's always a bad idea to assume what you don't know because out here, not knowing the right stuff is killing us.