New Face of Homelessness in America - By Deba Harper
June 26, 2014
Looking in the face of the new homeless saying, “There for the Grace of God goes I.”
One day while I was in Downtown Los Angeles ordering a Subway breakfast sandwich, a homeless man came up to me asking if I had any change or if I could get him something to eat. I responded that we can share my breakfast, and instructed the young lady making my sandwich to cut it in half. The man said he would wait outside until I was done. He was short in stature and I wondered if life had humbled him to where he couldn’t stand up straight through the pressures. His hair was greased with the soot and dirt residue of the streets where he laid his head many nights before. I couldn’t tell his ethnic origin because the sun damage and grime made his skin black and wrinkled, but his eye shape indicated he was of Asian descent. He was humble in his approach to me, and I wanted to do what I could to be the light in his dark place, at least for breakfast that morning.
I asked the young lady to bag the two sandwich halves separately. I had a bag of chips in my purse from home, which I slipped into his bag. I felt great to be able to share my breakfast with this man and proudly carried his bag in one hand as I walked out the door. Standing out front, I looked to my left and right but the man was not there. I walked around the corner of the building looking for him in all the nooks and crannies where other homeless people were waking and picking up their belongings before the business rush began for the day, but he was nowhere to be found. I looked across the street, but it was like he had vanished out of sight. The next homeless person I saw, I asked if he was hungry, but he refused the gift of sharing my breakfast. There could be many explanations for where the Subway homeless man might have gone, but I believe he was an angel sent to confirm my growth of human compassion and my commitment of meeting the needs of homeless people where they are in the moment.
I have not always been this compassionate and generous to the homeless. There was a time, not so long ago, that I prevented homeless guys from washing my car windows with their dirty water, while stopped at a red light. Before they got started, I would honk my horn, pull a hand full of coins from my ash tray, crack my window, and almost throw the change in their hands so we would not touch. As I zoom away in my nice comfortable car, I’d quickly grab hand sanitizer and rub vigorously in case something got on me. There was a time, not so long ago, I didn't even acknowledge the homeless person asking for change as I left fancy restaurants, not even considering handing them my leftovers. There was a time, not so long ago, I would speculate on how that person I just handed a dollar actually planned to use it for – food, drugs, gas or booze? There was a time, not so long ago, I would not notice or crack a smile to them as I rushed through my day, with my smart phone to my ear making global deals for the corporations I worked hard for in order to maintain the comforts I had obtained and felt entitled to enjoy.
I am one of those hard working Americans who had a more than 15 year flourishing professional career with various global fortune 500 companies. As a trend setter, pioneer, and innovator I contributed to helping many companies expand their wealth. The departments and teams I was involved with were hailed as monikers for best practices from the United States to Hong Kong. I was so successful in my last position that I worked my way into extinction. Contributing to support globalization earned me a large pay check, yet made it possible to eliminate many American jobs, that have been outsourced overseas to increase the company’s profit margin. I was blindsided by my own hubris as my head hit my professional glass ceiling, when in 2009 the economic downturn was the reason for my lay-off, along with thousands of others from various companies throughout our country.
Noticing what was happening around me, people losing jobs that corporations where never bringing back, coupled with the high rate of foreclosure and short sell signs that sprang up in neighborhoods and communities, it was evident that our country was heading towards a perfect storm. The bubble burst on our ‘American Dream’ and the welcome mat pulled from under the people’s feet. We braced our families as we planned to downsize in order to maintain our middle class comforts exhausting severance, savings, 401K, and long-term unemployment benefits. Then the country took sides, the 99% blaming the 1% of the wealthy for, what seemed to be, intentional monetary chaos. While the 1% calling the 99% of hard working frustrated Americans lazy for needing entitlements in order to survive, which the working class income taxes paid for during years prosperity. Our government held to partisan ideals through sequestering and holding federal budgets hostage, pulling away any life support as the middle class began sliding into the perfect storm of poverty. Insightfully, I knew there would come a time when more people, whose lives where once independently sustainable and productive, would not be able to qualify for conventional housing. Affordable housing is limited and waiting lists are 2-5 years long, which inevitably causes an increase in homelessness. The emergence of a new homeless population of people who roam the wilderness of life in search of an elusive dream that was once in reach like chasing the carrot on the string of “one paycheck away.”
That carrot chase converted to “This job is perfect for me, I’m sure to get it.” There was a time, not too long ago, when on Monday I would submit my resume to open job postings, by Wednesday I’d scheduled a number of interviews, and by Friday I was choosing from a number of job offers deciding which one to accept. Not this time, the labor force had changed. It seemed my natural abilities to achieve had failed me. After submitting hundreds of resumes with little to no response, I realized the screening process was designed to weed out the thousands of applicants with subjective measures that make the entire process a lottery.
The door of the dream had shut in the face of well qualified Americans trying to rebound in life and take care of their families. I’ve met many people who were once gainfully employed but due to life circumstances no longer have a place called home. Many are the hidden homeless, living with family and friends while trying to figure out the next steps and hoping that the next action will deliver an opportunity for adequate employment. Many of these productive people are now dependent on social services to help their families survive these rough times. Many of these capable people are now suffering from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety and are hoping to find a solution that will turn the tide in their favor. These able and willing people are juggling empty coffers trying to keep from being homeless on the streets, sleeping in the nooks of society, or walking into Subway to ask for food from a stranger. I am one of these people, and today I look in the mirror saying “Here I am God; use me as You will.”
In starting this blog, I am willing to be vulnerable and share my journey from middle class, to hidden homelessness, to Housing Homeless Youth in Healing Homes. I decided not to be intimidated by the economic decline of our nation, and use my gifts, talents, and professional background to help distress people and communities working together to rebound toward success. There is a new paradigm and innovative approach to housing ‘first’ as a pathway out of poverty. I am working with national, state, and city leaders in breaking down the barriers to the basic right of safe and affordable housing in our communities. If you are open to following the story of my journey from wounds to healing, I believe there is something that will speak to your heart. Perhaps you would be willing to at least share my story with people in your life who have gone through or who are going through similar circumstances.
My life experiences are the necessary ingredients for me to face head on the things that hinder my ability to reach my full potential and personal evolution as a human being. All elements of my physical existence are being challenged so that I can lighten up my vessel by bumping the baggage that is causing my ship to take on water and creating drag in my transport. It is time for the people of society to lighten up, so that we can ride freely as the spirit winds blow through our sails in the destination towards our destiny. We hold the gears to chart our unique course. I choose the course that maximizes the wind beneath my wings as i experience te process of personal transformation from a determined goat to an eagle n flight.