The Many Faces of the Homeless

by Dr. Chad Audi

As Michigan and the nation experience a slumping economy, the face of homelessness is rapidly changing. Long held images of a bearded, dirty panhandler have been replaced with a new reality: laid-off employees and working families living on the streets. Yes, today we see a variety of people who have found themselves with no place to go. They are the new faces of the homeless.

Let’s start with what I call the “working homeless.” A growing number of people with jobs ─ and who may even be enrolled in classes to further advance themselves ─ have found it impossible to live on their salaries. The rising costs of utilities, rent/mortgage, food and gas are more than they can afford, so they lose their homes. They’ve paid their taxes and are productive citizens, but they still face homelessness. The “working homeless” go to shelters for food and sleep, while they hold down low-paying jobs during the day.

Then you have the people who are laid off or fired from their jobs. Perhaps they were already living paycheck to paycheck and without adequate savings or other financial support, they end up on the streets. And sometimes a serious medical condition leads to the loss of a job and sky-high bills that can’t be paid. Unfortunately, we see many families in these situations who come to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) for shelter and assistance.

And, of course, there are addicted individuals whose dependency has caused them to spend all of their money on drugs and alcohol. They can’t maintain stable lifestyles and as a result become homeless. Despite numerous attempts at substance abuse treatment, many relapse and go back to life on the streets. A high number of the homeless population suffers from a mental illness. They are unable to maintain a home life and with the closure of several mental health institutions they have chosen to live under bridges, on street corners and in cardboard boxes. The situation is much the same with the “chronically” homeless who are comfortable living in abandoned buildings and soliciting people for money.

So as you see, there are a variety of circumstances that can lead to people becoming homeless. And the homeless are human beings just like you and me. Many want to preserve their dignity and respect. That’s what we focus on at the Detroit Rescue Mission; we provide them with quality services, special attention and the help needed to return to their own homes. It’s easier than you think to slip into homelessness, but it’s hard to get your life back without assistance from highly skilled people and caring organizations.

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