By Gloria Hallatt, member of Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship
The girl child lay cocooned in a blanket on a small cot. Where was she? Where was daddy? Why was she locked in this room alone, afraid, abandoned? She sat up, pulling the blanket closer to her as she stared, wide eyed, at the stranger who unlocked the door.
“Who are you?”, she asked shyly. The woman assured her she was safe here and soon they would find a home for her. A home? She didn’t need one of those, she needed her daddy. “I want my Daddy,” she said in a tearful voice. “I’m sorry honey, I’m sure you will like your new home” the lady said as she did her best to comfort the child.
My Life in “Care”
I was just five years old on the day this scene played out in the Youth Serve Center (kiddie jail) in King County, Washington. I would remain in their Center for over six months, locked in that tiny room alone, for my safety. No daddy, no mommy, just strangers asking me questions I could not answer and treating me as if I had done something wrong. This was the first time I remember experiencing homelessness and unfortunately, as the years passed by, being without a home did not get easier by any stretch of the imagination.
Oh, they found me homes, as promised, although these homes often lacked vital components such as love, nurture, and often, even food. By the time I reached the ripe old age of ten years, I had been placed in 27 homes and experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in 25 of those 27 homes. It is no mystery to me why I chose at ten years of age, to strike out on my own into the world outside. Anything had to be better than the alternatives the system kept coming up with.
After a year and a half of being on my own, working in restaurants in Ft. Wayne Indiana and Akron, Ohio under an alias name and age, I headed back to Washington State to demand my freedom. I petitioned the courts to emancipate me and I succeeded in convincing the judge to grant my wish. I was made a legal adult just a few months shy of my twelfth birthday! Looking back some fifty years later, I realize how poorly my circumstances were dealt with.
The System Does Not Work
The system has certainly not improved over the last fifty years. In fact, it is now worse than ever. Homeless children all too often become homeless adults. I have spent more than my fair share of time being without a home. I have witnessed families sleeping in their cars, teenagers living in the streets, disabled senior citizens living in shelters and sleeping outside, and a multitude of other folks who are without homes. Our government is currently not doing much to address homelessness, nor do they appear to be planning to do so in the near future.
Who is going to help these folks get back on track in life? A multitude of agencies claim to be getting folks housed, yet the homeless population continues to explode. Truthfully, I see the same folks in the street month after month, and often year after year.
Affordable housing is simply not available and the waiting list for subsidized housing exceeds five years for eighty percent of those who are homeless! How is someone supposed to live for 5 years without a home? Shelter beds are stretched beyond capacity and those who are left to sleep in the street are treated like criminals. So, who then is going to take action to resolve this atrocious situation?
Put “Humane” Back into Being Human
As human beings, I believe we ought to practice being humane. I do not have the resources to house these folks, but I believe that collectively we can make a difference in the lives of the homeless in our community.
I am the caretaker at a small church in Ft. Collins, Colorado – Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship. I have witnessed this church in action making a difference for our homeless friends. By day, our building is a shelter for homeless families. On Saturday it becomes a refuge for a multitude of homeless folks. They gather here to eat, shower, and rest their weary bones. In inclement weather we open our doors in the evening for folks who are almost suffering from hypothermia after long hours of being out in the cold. Recently we won a legal battle with the City and are now able to offer lockers for people to store their meager belongings.
I often wonder just how much more could be accomplished if we had the funding to do so? I wonder why folks sit and complain about the homeless population, yet, are unwilling to assist in resolving the problem. Change does not occur until people choose to be the catalyst for change.
Making a Difference
You and I must choose to be the difference in a world that turns a blind eye to the suffering of those who have no place to lay their heads. If we are going to speak of love, kindness, peace, and hope, then we must act in a like manner. Imagine what can be accomplished if we all contribute to resolving the problem. If we all give up our cup of morning coffee for a day or two and put those funds to better use?
Who knows? I may wake up one day to find that those who now sleep behind this church are absent because they are living in their own homes. I look forward to that day!