By Courtney Sendall, 2019 Sleep Out participant
My first true exposure to homelessness came last year when I participated in HumanKind Ministries’s first Speak Out/Speak Out event. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience, to say the least, and one that challenged every stereotype of homelessness that I might have believed.
For starters, I had no idea the depth and breadth of the services that HK offers. From emergency shelters to temporary and affordable/low-income housing, their employees meet people where they are and then wrap services around them on a case-by-case basis. They have case workers in each of their properties who work with people on a daily basis to change their circumstances for the better.
At one point in the evening, Speak Out/Speak Out participants completed a budgeting exercise. The situation I was assigned was this: single mom, one child, working two part-time jobs, no health insurance, bringing home $920 after taxes. Now try to pay for rent, food, clothing, transportation to work, and childcare. Spoiler alert: the numbers don’t add up. It was an impossible situation but sadly not an improbable one. I like to think that I’m fairly cognizant of my own privilege, but I was honestly embarrassed when I thought about my own budget and spending habits.
Then two of HKM’s clients shared their stories with our group. Neither one of them fit the bill for what I thought homelessness looked like. Many people on the streets actually have jobs. Many do not have substance abuse issues. Most have just had one bad break too many.
I walked away feeling incredibly thankful for the circumstances I was born into, because only 1 in 4 people who are born into poverty in America ever make it out. I also walked away more convinced than ever that we must fund mental health services in our city, state and country.
If you’re interested in helping, here are a few ideas. HK can always use donations of these items: men’s jeans, new tennis shoes, work boots, and larger size coats. If you own a business, reach out to HK to see if one of their clients could fit your workforce needs. And, of course, please keep them in mind for your charitable giving as financial gifts are most helpful in keeping their shelters and many programs operational.
And finally, I hope you will consider participating in the second Sleep Out/Speak Out event on Saturday, June 6th. The event is now fully virtual given the pandemic, so you can spend the night under the stars in the comfort of your own backyard or a location of your choosing. Spending a night under the stars is not about pretending to be homeless; it’s an act of solidarity—to give a tiny insight into this reality and to raise the funds and awareness needed to help those who have no other choice. I can promise you won’t regret it.