I’ve never had a problem giving money to people who I saw on the street. My stance has always been: it’s none of my business what you do with the money that I give you, but if I have what someone else is asking for and I can afford to make the sacrifice, it’s my job as a Christian to give. But handing out a few dollars here and there was the extent of my giving. The homeless citizens that I met last week in Washington D.C. made it very clear that most times, more than money they just want to be acknowledged as people.
Over the course of 7 days, we visited almost 10 different service sites and met people from all walks of life that had come together under the grim circumstance of homelessness. They shared their stories of how they ended up on the street, and all the things they wished that they’d done differently. Each person that we met helped me realize that my standard of living could shift at any moment, but that I can make a conscious effort everyday to help others and protect myself from becoming a victim of a lifestyle that over 600,000 Americans experience. How ironic that we went to D.C. to help them and they ended up helping us?
Here are a few lifestyle changes I’m planning to make and would ask that you consider as well:
- Donate any and everything that you no longer want/use. It’s so cliché but, one (wo)man’s trash really is another wo(man)’s treasure and someone else is always available to take what you no longer need. Your canned goods in the back of the cabinet that never get used, that wobbly bar stool, and those out-of-style jeans you bought years ago would be valuable to those much less fortunate. I know that just tossing them out is much easier, but identify organizations near you that will take your old clothes, food, and furniture before you make that trip to the dumpster. Also, if you know about these types of organizations offhand, it makes donating less of a hassle.
- Take only as much as you need because overconsumption leads to waste. For example, try cooking no more than what you would eat in a day or two, to avoid throwing out leftovers. It’s a waste of your money and resources that others might need.
- Avoid conspicuous consumption and live within your means. Just because you can afford to, doesn’t mean you should; you never know what might happen. As a new professional, it’s very tempting to start acquiring things that will show that you’ve “made it”. But a reliable shelter and consistent food source is much more important than that new car or piece of jewelry. Should you fall on hard times unexpectedly, it would be hard to cash in those clothes to cover rent.
- Even if you don’t have a side job, at least have identified ways that you could use your talents to generate supplemental income. The economy could tank and you could be laid off or your company may decide that you no longer meet their standards, and you should be prepared. Furthermore, if we have multiple streams of expenses (rent, utilities, car note, insurance, groceries, etc.) shouldn’t we also have multiple streams of income?! Why should we expect ONE job to cover COUNTLESS expenses? Wisdom of the wealthy (not rich) says always have a side hustle.
- Take care of your body, everything you put in it either adds a day or takes one away. You don’t have to cut out all of your guilty pleasures (soda, cookies, donuts, etc.) at once, but you also don’t need to consume all of them every day. Do some research, come up with a plan, and don’t cut anything from your diet without first identifying a substitute. Also, see a doctor. You could have a mental or physical illnesses lurking and certain foods or substances that you use could trigger a problem you never knew you had. Without proper medical attention, the illnesses could keep you from working, resulting in decreased income and the possibility of homelessness.
- Most importantly, identify your support system. Everyone needs someone; humans were not created to survive in this world alone. A lack of support, either from family or friends, was a reoccurring theme in many of the conversations that we had with homeless citizens. Without friends or family to help out when you need it, there’s no one you can borrow money from until you get stable, no one to babysit for you while to go in for a job interview, and no one to offer up their sofa should you get evicted. Equally important as finding your support system, is being the support that others need. Make sure that your family and friends know if they can call on you during their tough times.
Homelessness is not just a third-world problem; it’s right here in our backyards. It happens to the most innocent, humble, and educated adults and children and can happen to you.
*** This post is from an angle of self-help and not meant for victim-blaming; I fully recognize that there are many systemic issues that force people into homelessness. But since we cannot depend on a system that was never intended to help all of us, the best we can do is help ourselves.