I am one of the faces of homelessness in Columbia. I am an educated, strong, conservative, Caucasian female.
I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol. I am not the typical stereotype of the homeless, yet, here I am, homeless.
I am lucky enough to be in a good women’s transitional home now and on my way to putting my life back together; however, I am still homeless and have learned things and seen things firsthand I never could have imagined without firsthand knowledge.
There is still such a need in the heart of this beautiful city for the homeless. Columbia does a good job. Between the compassion of churches and civic organizations, no one really needs to go hungry.
There are people and places that “feed,” as it is called within the community, daily. Without a financial resource to your name you can wake up in the morning can go for coffee at St. John Café, breakfast at Christ Central and lunch at the Soup Cellar. Various groups provide breakfast, lunch and dinner all over the city on weekends.
There are resources for mental illness, veterans and recovering addicts and alcoholics. Columbia seems to be working hard for those in need.
That said, there are still a rising number of people living on the streets. Every day you see people sleeping on street corners and park benches because they are on the street at night, and afraid to close their eyes in the cover of darkness in fear of their safety.
There are winter shelters; however, they are only available on nights when the temperatures drop below a certain level. So on mild nights in all kinds of weather people still sleep on the streets, in church yards, behind dumpsters, or any place they can find to rest their heads.
The need is even greater for women. It can be a frightening place for a woman, alone on the streets. There are not nearly as many places for women as men. And more and more women are in need of these services.
Homeless women need safe places of refuge while putting their lives back together. Whether you end up on the streets because of the loss of a job, getting out of an abusive situation or because life just temporarily became too much to bear, the resources for women remain limited and the ones that are available are filled to the brim and have waiting lists.
The resources that are available for the most part seem to cater to women who are fresh out of rehabilitation or detention centers and who need to be re-introduced into society. Some, and I’ve found temporary housing in a couple of these for lack of other options, are so strict and controlling, that for someone simply seeking to rebuild their life, they are more of a hindrance than a help.
Homelessness has a way of stripping away a person’s dignity. And for some, after a while, they give up hope. They lose the hope of ever having a home again.
For some, they turn to alcohol or drugs to kill the pain of the loss of that dignity. Perfectly nice people, who when they became homeless were two or three steps away from getting back on their feet, but after trying and failing again and again, they gave up.
And with the ready availability of drugs and alcohol within the community, they turn to it to forget, at least for a little while, that they are in pain.
I don’t know what the answers are, and I don’t know how we can save everyone. But it’s hard to watch really good-hearted people fall deeper and deeper into the abyss. It’s hard to watch people who have become your friends die on the streets because they gave up on themselves.
Filtering through all the red tape, finding your way around in a world that seems foreign to you when you don’t know the process for getting help and resources, is challenging, especially when you are already feeling lost and hopeless.
Give someone hope today. As you are out there attending to your busy lives, stop and talk to people.
Not all of us look homeless. Not all of us are just looking for a handout or a free ride. Some of us are just trying to get back on our feet against what sometimes seems like insurmountable odds.