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Don't give the homeless money, give them your heart

By Jeff Gelman

For Francine Triplett, a feeling of all-encompassing loneliness was one of the worst parts of living on the street for three and a half years. Those who walked by her and other homeless people "treated us like we was a big old bag of trash," said Triplett, who became homeless after fleeing an abusive relationship.

"All I wanted was conversation. I didn't want food," she recently said during National Poverty Awareness Week. "I looked up at the sky and cried every night."

You don't have to give the homeless money, said Michael O'Neill, speakers' bureau coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

"You give them your heart," said ONeill, who tours the country with Triplett and two other formerly homeless people to share their experiences and their message.

"One thing you can do is smile and say hello, how are you. That gives hope. It can change their day around, even their life around." Homeless advocates and those who used to live on the street agree: The restoration of human dignity is essential for homeless people to take back their lives.

"Jobs, food, shelter. None of that means a damn thing if they don't believe they're worth something," said Jim Shelton, director of the Life Center of Eastern Delaware County, a homeless shelter that borders West Philadelphia.

This winter, there are many ways to help the estimated 3,500 homeless people in Philadelphia- 300 of whom live on the street, said Rob Hess, the City's deputy managing director of Special Needs Housing.

"As the weather gets colder, and if you see someone on the street in need, call the outreach hotline at 215-232-1984, so a team can be sent out to offer services," Hess said.

Or support a homeless family, either by writing a check or by purchasing gifts for a family, or even by personally taking the gifts to a family and learning more about them.

"People can be as active or as passive as they want to be ..." Hess said. For a shelter referral, call Hess' office at 215-686-7106. Donations of socks, T-shirts, underwear and other men's clothing and toiletries are greatly needed at the North Broad Street offices of the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness. The organization operates a day center for men to take showers, get a change of clothing and check their mail. For more information, call 215-232-2300.

The city is making progress in reducing the number of homeless people living on the street, as the amount is less than half that of 2000. Still, Mayor Street isn't satisfied. He has ordered the city's Task Force on Homelessness to come up with a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the city.

O'Neill of the National Coalition for the Homeless noted that there are so many stereotypes of homeless people- that they're lazy, uneducated, alcoholics and drug addicts, and that they want to live on the street.

In reality, 45 percent of homeless people work- sometimes as many as three jobs at a time- yet they still can't earn enough money to afford a place to live due to a dwindling amount of affordable housing. And of the 3.5 million people who have been homeless this year, nearly a third are children. They, along with women, are the fastest growing homeless population, O'Neill said.

"Anyone can be homeless just like that," he said, "if you lose your job or don't have health insurance and get injured or sick." That's what happened to David Harris. He lived from paycheck to paycheck until an illness that wasn't properly treated because he couldn't afford health insurance caused him to lose his job, thus forcing him out on the street. "Homelessness", Harris said, "is a harsh existence."

James Davis said that in all the time he worked as a space flight specialist for NASA and later traveled the world for a different job, he never considered how people became homeless. "I thought they just fell out of the sky and landed there," he said.

And he never imagined it would happen to him. A combination of losing his security clearance following the Sept. 11 attacks, the deaths of both his parents, chronic depression and drugs, resulted in Davis' homelessness in Washington, D.C. "This isn't the way anybody wants to live," Harris said.

(c) Philly1.Com & The Weekly Press


National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033

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