Yes, I gave away everything that I owned and became homeless on purpose to teach women that they could survive an extreme loss as I navigated through The Rebuild Your Life Project. Yes, I lived as a homeless woman in Hollywood, Florida, for four months. Yes, I interviewed and interacted on nearly every level from within the homeless population. No, I am not an advocate for the homeless.
As I stated in Homeless On Purpose, my summative report about The Rebuild Your Life Project, from my viewpoint there are two types of homeless people; those who are temporarily homeless due to a life transition and those who are perpetually homeless. Those who are temporarily homeless have a life skill set that will push them back to where they want to be through perseverance. Like mothers who somehow gain supernatural strength to rescue their child in danger, the temporarily homeless individual will fight whatever battles they need to fight and climb back to their place in life because their standard of living is important to them.
Those who are perpetually homeless have learned to live minimally off of government assistance and the benevolence of others and are comfortable in that lifestyle. They are not willing or, in some cases capable enough to be diligent and do the hard work that it takes to move themselves up the socio-economic ladder.
But should we blame them?
We consider ourselves successful when we own the big house with the 2-car garage and drive the shiny cars on our way to a job that takes up 40-60 hours of our week. We see the homeless individuals at the gas station as we fork over a hundred dollars every two weeks so that we can travel comfortably and we think to ourselves, "How sad. I would kill myself if that ever happened to me."
Then we rush off to meet our obligations so that we can keep the stuff that so proudly indicates our success in life. We wake up at 6 am everyday. We are back in bed by 9 pm. We are programmed to watch two hours of television every night and oh yeah -- a drink will help us unwind. We are a part of a programmed cycle of life that someone told us that we should live simply because we do not want to lose our standard of living. We are owned by this lifestyle but we don't even realize it.
Throw out those images of the homeless that they show you on TV. The camera pans slowly across a dirty, emotionless face with violins softly playing in the background. Their mouths are slightly open and their eyes are glossed over. They look more like sad puppies in the dog pound than people, but real homeless people are nothing like that.
The people that I met, especially the perpetually homeless, were the most intelligent, conniving, resourceful, inspiring, dramatic, colorful, courageous people I have ever had the privilege to meet. The perpetually homeless haven't given up on life, they simply have a different standard of living than we do and it is not necessarily one we should look down upon.
Think of this way. If all you had to do everyday was stand in the sun for 6 hours panhandling and all of your bills would be paid, you would have a place to sleep, 3 meals a day plus extras handed over from everyone who feels sad for you, free goodies and services sponsored by the government, discounts on cigarettes and plenty of others to socialize with, would you really want to put up with a bi polar boss who becomes aroused by demeaning you in the workplace and threatening to take away your livelihood if you don't bow to his every command?
The homeless are well capable of finding the help that they need when they need it and when they don't feel they need it, they don't ask. It is your perception of how they should live that causes you to be alarmed and to extend yourselves to help pull them up, yet many of them do not want your fancy schmancy lifestyle and obligations and are content with surviving off of government assistance, other creative means of earning income and your guilt-ridden donations.
But what about the mothers and children who live out on the street? What about the elderly and the handicapped? What about the mentally ill?
Although I have developed My Savvy Sisters, Inc, a not for profit organization that aids women during life transitions, I can not rescue everyone. I do know that if it is important enough, any capable person will find a way to get what they want. The women with children who are homeless can reap the benefits of shelters and social service programs. It will be a rough ride with plenty of fighting through red tape but it is doable if it is important enough.
Those homeless individuals who are physically or mentally incapable of supporting themselves have the option of being cared for by privately owned homeless shelters that desperately need your assistance in funding their efforts.
There will never be an end to poverty and homelessness because there will always be people who do not choose to be active contributors to the workforce or society because they have been taught to be dependent on the government for their livelihood. The government shouldn't be blamed for individual life choices. We are all responsible for our own lives. We each have the capacity to turn straw into gold, the problem is most of us don't believe we can and sit in complacency waiting for a rescuer.
This is the main difference between the 'have's' and the 'have not's. Those who 'have' believe they should have everything they want and are willing to put in the work required to get it. Those who 'have not' believe they are victims and demand to be cared for by an intangible entity instead of creatively manipulating a different version of success. I can guarantee you that I can sit down with any impoverished person and teach them how to profit from their current situation. The problem is, they won't believe me and won't try and will run back to what is stable, government assistance.
I was idealistic as I began The Rebuild Your Life Project; I thought that all homeless women needed was a chance at employment. Through the process of meeting and engaging homeless women I learned that there is a certain stability and comfort in government assistance that gainful employment does not allow. Why give up a sure thing just to be acceptable in society's eyes? I was hard pressed to find homeless women who actually wanted to work.
At this point, it is neither my desire nor my place to try to force anyone to want a different lifestyle; If you like it, I love it and I respect you for it. But, if you're ready for more responsibility and you believe you deserve a chance to contribute your skills to the workforce; I am an advocate for you.
Listen, this isn't too far from home for me. For all of my intelligence, wisdom and skill, I simply could not hold down a job for long as no company could contain me. I am a loser in the eyes of many because I am a visionary, not a worker. Most companies do not appreciate this type of personality. This type of personality has to create a system instead of being employed by one and this is no easy task. As a result, my two sons now live with their Dad and they are prospering in ways that I could not have afforded to offer them. I forgave myself a long time ago as I realized that there is more than one way to be a good Mom.
I am not an advocate for the homeless. I am an advocate for people who are not afraid to fail and try again. I am an advocate for those who wish to contribute to our society. I am an advocate for those who believe they can and should attain their wildest dreams. I am an advocate for those who need a little sustenance while they pursue their goals. I stand with you even though I failed so many years while trying to stand for myself. Maybe you can teach me how to get it right or maybe I wasn't supposed to get it right so that I could be free to organize this initiative for you.
For those who are ready to change their lifestyle through employment, I ask that you join me in supporting The Rebuild Your Life Project 's United 9 to 5; a ready to work jobs Initiative that asks big businesses to create employment opportunities for Americans who are ready to work.
Next week, we'll explore the ins and outs of creating the foundation for this initiative and how Denny's corporation is leading the pack.