A Reality Check On The Harshness of Being Homeless

Starting 2017 Out with Compassion

By - J. Shockley

What is the first thing that pops in your head when you see someone pushing a shopping cart filled with belongings? Or when yowww.mydogeatsfirst.orgu see someone who looks slightly bedraggled curled up on a bench with a backpack? Those are just a few of the homeless in our fair city, as many stay hidden from the masses, only coming out when most people are home, safe in their beds. This is not because these unfortunate individuals are bad in most cases, but more so because they are a victim of some imposing circumstance that put them in the situation. In some cases, they have lost everything, family, friends, and even pets.

There are over 564,708 “known” homeless people in the United States. That may not sound like a large quantity, because numbers are based on those who come forward or get assistance. The amount of people surviving on the street is actually greater. The homeless population is composed of single individuals, couples, a person and pet, and entire families. In 2010, one out of every nine children enrolled in Louisville public schools was homeless via WAVE 3. According to a study in 2015 in the Lexington Herald, there were more than 30,000 homeless children in Kentucky. Once again, that calculation was via what was “reported.” Many homeless humans, just like animals, go unnoticed, uncounted, and uncared for.  

There are a surprising quantity of homeless that want to go unnoticed for one reason or another. Some feel shame for their misfortune, despite being victims of a circumstance beyond their control. Around 8% of the homeless population is known veterans. These brave individuals who served our country are either no longer comfortable in mainstream society due to mental scars, or illness stemming from their service to our country. They might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from combat, or some other mental disease. The number of physically disabled street Veterans is also disturbing. The gist is that the unfortunate are most often not living on the streets for the reasons the average passerby thinks.

Research has shown an additional 1.4 million veterans, especially Vietnam and post-Vietnam era are at a high risk of being homeless. This is due to a lack of government housing, overcrowding and a lack of real support networks. Once again… these figures are estimated and are likely much higher. The number of mentally disabled people surviving without adequate housing is actually staggering when we look at the 34 Billion in foreign aid that is to be distributed in 2017.

Reality, the homeless population is not here to be judged. In every orchard there are a few bad apples, but that shouldn’t affect how we look at individuals who are down on their luck. There are some incredible people who don’t have a home, but they have a heart, and a desire to see positive things. It is important to think on these matters when we see someone who looks unkempt, wears worn clothes, and has an old backpack held close. It likely contains all that they have.

If a homeless person has a pet, don’t be quick to judge harshly. Many homeless treat their pets better than homeowners with animals. These are their companions, because they have no one. Some of these unfortunate animal lovers will give up their own daily meal to ensure their fur babies are fed. During the cold, an equal portion of the shelter is reserved for that special furry friend that never judges, and always offers unconditional love.

The holidays just ended, and homeless shelters were filled to capacity, but so were tents and abandoned buildings, and enclosures, where homeless individuals with companions tried to find warmth. You see, they have a special bond, just as anyone else with an animal they love. The sight of this can often take people aback, as they wonder how this homeless person cares for a pet when they cannot even provide a home for themselves.

The homeless with pets find salvation in Louisville via organizations like My Dog Eats First (MDEF). These people know that twice monthly they can visit the MDEF distribution center at 2509 Portland Avenue and receive pet food, blankets, toys, and vet care for their companion animals. They know that every Friday a friendly, familiar face from MDEF will be hand-delivering pet food and supplies to their camps.  They know that the first Wednesday of each month a veterinarian that partners with MDEF will be visiting in a central SAFE location to take care of vaccinations, licensing and general wellness issues with their pets.

Donations are also welcomed and very much appreciated at the MDEF facility. Things like pet food, treats, blankets, beds, brushes and basic animal care items are always needed. Volunteers and animal lovers who want to pitch in and help the homeless with pets in our community are also welcomed.

Homelessness is not a disease or an eye sore. It is a real problem that affects real people who appreciate help and compassion. It is a growing problem that is overlooked and misunderstood. Let’s start out 2017 with compassion and care for fellow human beings and their pets who have found themselves in unfortunate circumstances. You never know what led to the circumstance, so smile, and if nothing else, tell them “God Bless, or hope you have a nice day.” A friendly word, a cup of coffee, or a can of dog food can make all the difference in the world to a homeless person with a furry companion.