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It starts at home
I have always had empathy and concern for individuals who have nowhere to call home. I first encountered homelessness in a man I worked with in New Jersey. He had no place to sleep. My wife was shocked when I brought him home to stay.
I also experienced homelessness myself when I was separated from my wife and spent time living with a friend. I even spent a night in my church, with the caretaker's blessing.
There are many individual reasons for homelessness. Drug addiction, mental illness, emotional instability, economic downturns, poverty, neglect of unwanted children, past or present abuse, myriad issues of identity.
There are also many solutions that address parts of this problem. Engaging the individuals in a business enterprise such as Speak Up is successful solution for many—but not for everyone. Affordable housing and organizations such as “Habitat for Humanity” are valid for some. Charitable outreaches that feed, clothe, and help with practical support may be lifelines. It is an intricate puzzle. No person has identical needs to another.
It is important to have solutions to like those above that meet immediate needs. We must have this toolkit that addresses “what” and the “how.”
But the questions that burn into my heart and soul are deeper than the practical solutions. I think about the reasons causing the homelessness, which is often just a symptom. I think of the support systems that seem to be missing from people's lives.
Addressing homelessness should start years before it is an issue. Dear parents, it begins with you! Teach your children well. Help them prepare for life, develop necessary life skills, and navigate in a world that is sometimes scary and hostile. Show them how to be resilient. Teach them to be productive at an early age.
Love your kids this way and most of them will thrive. But sometimes you have to support them beyond what seems natural: emotionally and financially helping them into adulthood.
Above all, they have to feel loved. Accepted. No matter what. It doesn’t mean you have to bankroll their dysfunction, but your love makes a difference. It will help them in the hardest times.
What if they are mentally ill, make self-destructive choices, are addicted, or rebellious and don’t seem to care happens to them? It's complicated. Some of the hardest cases I've seen are people whose families broke ties with them. Who didn't just kick them out, but washed their hands of them—discarded them.
Tough love sounds good, but is not always true love. Sometimes it works. Often it doesn't.
One guy was constantly stealing from relatives. It was a terrible situation. However, the cause was worse: a crippling drug addiction. Instead of addressing the drug addiction, the family blocked this person out completely. Booted him out and threw walls around their hearts. The loss of family nearly killed him.
My opinion: don’t abandon the addict. Help them get the care they need, take them to a treatment center, give them a pathway off the train of addiction. Be firm, yes. But never stop loving.
Mental illness is also hard for everyone involved. What's the best way to love a person whose illness may mean incredible pain for you? Again, not easy. Sometimes you have to make hard choices.
I can't answer for anyone else, but I do know this: disowning a child or family member never acceptable. This doesn't mean you need to live with them, but please always look for a path of love when establishing those boundaries. Never disown them. Never stop loving.