Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of homeless people that changed my perspective. There is a local foundation that is starting to gain support in presenting financial information to those eager to learn more about handling money. I have to admit, before speaking, I was not sure what to expect. Many of us have an image of what the homeless look like but this presentation showed me that this face has undergone a makeover.
All of the members in this group were required to attend this presentation per the agreement they signed with the shelter they were living in. Actually, this shelter was called a village because the individuals/families that were a part of it did not live in one building – they each had their own apartment to call home. This village holds its occupants accountable for their actions and they (occupants) have to take certain actions to better themselves in order to live in this village. The ultimate goal is for an individual (or family) to move out and live independently after living at the village no more than two years.
I have given quite a few financial presentations. I have felt some of these have been successful with dialogue between me and the audience whereas others have fallen flat and many seemed to get nothing out of it (I could be wrong about this since people react different ways but, from my point of view, I did not feel some were open to what I had to say). This last presentation I did was wonderful and I had a lot of audience feedback and participation.
Many in this group were like you and I a few years ago. They had good-paying jobs and were living the American Dream – nice house, reliable car, some extra spending money and plenty to live off of. Like many, they did not have an emergency fund in place and, when they lost their job, found they could no longer afford their lifestyle. Over time they lost most of what they had and were now living in this village. Despite this tough circumstance, they were all eager to learn and ready to make a change.
One woman in the group was working 3 jobs to build up her emergency fund (so much for the homeless being lazy) and is actually “graduating” and will be living on her own in a month. Another lady told me about her past life of eating at fancy restaurants and having a lot of nice things. Even though she lost most of it, she said she is now relieved to no longer be living this way. She can now see what is truly important in life (family) and does not feel the pressure to live large anymore. Hitting bottom helped open her eyes to all she needs. There was a gentleman in the group who was raising his two children by himself after a messy divorce. This village is allowing him the time to get back on his feet after his separation from his wife. That he was also raising his children on his own, one being a teen-ager, spoke greatly of his character (so much for the deadbeat dad).
This presentation was an eye-opener for me. I have seen shows and documentaries showing the new face of homelessness after the recent recession. I was now able to see this in the flesh. I can sometimes see things as being black and white but many times there is a lot of grey in between. Many in this group were once like others I know – they just went along without much savings and thinking their jobs would always be there. When something unexpected happened they lost most of what they had. This could happen to most of us and, thus, is the new face of homelessness.