We have failed.
As a society, we fail at handling homeless situations. I sat here researching the stats regarding those living out on the margins of society- but it is what we all know- staggering. This crisis hits thousands from every demographic, background, and social class. Whether people are choosing this path or unwillingly forced into it, we have a problem.
Common causes of homelessness are:
- Domestic Violence
- Substance Use
- Job Loss
- Mental Health Issues
- Lack of Affordable Housing
- Lack of Adequate Income
This list leaves out why someone landed in any scenario, and we are often blind to their back story. We walk right by and see through the heart and souls of the homeless humans in front of us.
I am a parent of an adult loved one battling substance use. For years I fought alongside, tried to motivate, and lent help in any way I could. I have paid bills- sometimes for months, I have posted bail, bought groceries, clothes, and other items. I opened my home in hopes of change. But the desire for change was outplayed by the desire to be high. I supported stays in treatment facilities, both short and long-term. In doing this, I became the guardian of two grandchildren, and I have raised them for four years.
Our previous in-home experiences with addiction became our last. We decided not to allow our home as a living arrangement ever again. Trust has been lost along this journey, and opening the doors opens my heart to pain and mental wellness obstacles I don’t have to choose. What we have experienced living with our loved ones is nothing we want to repeat.
We did not abandon our kids to the homeless unknown. Contacts and options were offered, such as housing, shelters, or treatments facilities. The decision to go rested on their desire to choose at a fork in the road. One found his way to treatment across the country. After being discharged, he chose sober living and remains there today. He has succeeded in recovery for a year and a half. My heart is thankful.
Our other loved one is currently experiencing the plight of homelessness. After closing our doors to living together, I offered to fly my daughter to a faith-based treatment program in Tennessee. She left after six short weeks and tried sober living near her brother. After two months, she was back in the mix of her addiction darkness. A friend sent her back to Colorado in hopes she would seek help and be motivated around her family. (We were not her motivation before she left, so I couldn’t find hope in that positive thought). My daughter secured sober living on her own with a grant, and things looked up.
After two months, the cycle repeated as it often does in addiction. The evil in this habit is how it penetrates the brain and mind and has the power to incite chaos at any moment. That is where the ‘disease’ label comes in. There are fundamental changes made within the brain’s chemistry in substance use disorder.
Approved with the option of a 30-day treatment facility back in November, my girl said no. My heart broke again, and here we sit. She went from place to place, following one person or another. A couple of years ago, she saved money and bought her car with cash; it’s gone. She has slept in a tent city, on trains, and I don’t know where else. She has experienced hunger, and I had sent food when asked, sometimes to a business with an address because she doesn’t have one. I picked her up a few weeks ago and bought groceries when she was in a hotel room with a kitchen. Sadly, she left there a couple of days later, and I am not sure what she took with her.
Today, I do not know where she slept, and she has no phone but somehow messages me on Facebook. I wake up every morning hoping she is still alive. A few days ago, the police stopped them on the street. They were searched and told to leave the town of Parker, Colorado. They had a reservation that night at a hotel, and the hotel did not like all the commotion near their property and made them leave. They are still waiting for the reimbursement. According to the hotel manager, their crime is being homeless and “Looking shady.”
So, there you go. I believe we all have to face the reality that our choices have consequences, and I do not argue this fact. These young kids and adults living on the streets probably had an alternative option, and they chose not to accept it for one reason or another. Whether we can digest this dynamic in addiction or not doesn’t change the situation. If a woman is beaten and won’t leave her spouse, we struggle to understand but support her. If a veteran in crisis is homeless, we tend to offer a bit of grace in that situation. When a man loses his job, which leads to the loss of his home, we offer compassion and care. Yet, when people fight substance use in addiction, we call it a choice, and therefore, that’s what you get.
I can hear it now- but you won’t let them back in your home. No, I won’t because I’ve endured the abuse of addiction. I have lived the unimaginable pain and will not return. I send my homeless loved one shelters and food bank information and beg for her to go to treatment. I stay in contact even when pushed to my limit. I love my children with all I am- but I hate their addiction. I love them right where they are, in the mess or clean-up of bad decisions made in the hell of addiction.
I am not asking society to fix this; I ask the community to see past the dirty clothes and acknowledge the soul behind the hopeless face. Consider researching shelters and supporting them with a monthly giving of a few dollars. Anything will help! Donate non-expired food to keep the pantries well-stocked. Donate your time, and connect with your neighbors, even those without a home.
Homelessness is a nationwide problem. Collectively, we can change the trajectory of this land. We need to look beyond ourselves and live outside our comfortable box. I commit to this today, and I hope you do, too.
To Donate to the Denver Rescue Mission
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless