I really appreciate the song below–Homecoming by Derek Minor–because it brings to light the frailty of our security. Though we don’t like to imagine this reality, it is sobering to recognize that with just a few bad decisions we may find ourselves in situations of desperation and hopelessness. It is an important recognition though, as it changes how we view ourselves and how we view those in poverty and homelessness.
I had never really considered this reality before my sophomore year of college. I’ve never been in poverty, but that year was the first time I’d ever been broke (I’d recommended reading my blog “Us Poor College Students” to understand the difference between being broke and being in poverty). I didn’t have a job my freshman or sophomore year of college, partly because I was busy with school and cross country, and partly because I didn’t want one. Up until that point I had been able to survive on my savings and the money that I received at my graduation party, but the well of money had quickly run dry. I had to borrow $40 from my roommate at the beginning of the semester, and it took my the remainder of the semester to find a way to pay him back. I eventually took a job working in my school’s cafeteria, though I was previously determined to never work there.
My finances eventually sorted themselves out (large in part to employment with YouthWorks) but grappling with financial instability was frightening.
I again wrestled with the reality of poverty after going on Poverty Weekend at Cedarville. Though only a simulation of poverty, it does force you to consider how a few poor decisions would place you squarely in the position you were imitating.
Often people fall into poverty or homelessness after moving to a different locale under the hope of financial gain. Often this is the premise of human trafficking in the majority world in the United States. If job opportunities fold, people have little to no support system in the new location to fall back on, and many times no money to move back to where they originated. One risk, or gross exploitation, can result in ruin.
You don’t have to move away to face that reality though. A loss of a vocation or an extended period of unemployment can again result in ruin, not just for those at risk or on the margins, but for anyone.
Often, people find themselves homeless because they’ve meddled with drugs or alcohol to too great a degree (though often people become alcoholics or drug addicts because they are homeless, rather than the other way around).
Like the woman in the song above, many people fall into situations of poverty because they have a child and the opposite parent flees responsibility leaving one parent with an overwhelming burden.
For someone like myself, if my parents were to pass away (heaven forbid) I would have a significantly greater financial burden that could end very poorly on my behalf.
Point being, it is much easier than we often imagine to become homeless or poverty-stricken. One tragedy or bad decision and we could be at financial ruin. That said, I’d encourage you not to judge the homeless or those in poverty. Though it is true that sometimes they have fallen on bad times due to their own poor decisions, often it is decisions acted upon them or reasonable risks taken that fail to result in benefit which send people spiraling downward.
So rather than judge or treat with contempt, treat low-income men and women with love and respect, get to know their stories, and understand that you are not that far way from being in their place.