I’ll never forget this image. I was riding the Light Rail on my way home from an Orioles game one night. As the train passed the old bus station, a line of cardboard boxes on the sidewalk came into view. Each box contained a person who called that box home. Someone on the train made the comment, “Look, new row houses on Howard Street!”
Homelessness and hunger are serious business. In today’s economy, more and more people who, at one time, were financially independent and thought they were prepared for their future and for retirement, are now facing some very difficult decisions they had never even considered before. Should they pay their overdue utility bills in order to keep their homes lit, or should they buy food to feed their families, or should they pay their rent or mortgage? As their financial situations continue to deteriorate, the balancing act of deciding who and what to pay becomes exceedingly complex.
No one is immune from a financial reverse. No one is completely secure. Those of us who endured the effects of Hurricane Irene this past August or the severe blizzards in 2010 can see some parallels between the daily lives of people without homes and what we experienced as a result of those devastating storms. Many people were without electricity for nearly a week after Irene roared through our area. The lack of power affected our food supply and caused a loss of water for many. That sounds very similar to our friends on the street in their flimsy boxes, except that the boxes most of us reside in are made of brick and mortar, not cardboard. That is, of course, not counting the homes that were damaged by fallen trees or debris or the torrential winds and rainfall. The basic necessities of food, electricity and shelter were suddenly lost, albeit due to unpreventable acts of nature.
Nature’s unwanted “gift” of this reality check makes us all aware of what can happen in the event of a financial loss or crisis. Unlike with Hurricane Irene, when no amount of preparation could predict the devastation caused by Mother Nature, we have the ability to react proactively at the earliest sign of an impending financial “storm.” Homelessness can sometimes be delayed or prevented with sound preparation. Eviction or foreclosure prevention is not necessarily limited to financial support. There are other resources available that are equally valuable.
Public and private agencies such as Jewish Community Services, Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, Baltimore County Department of Planning, United Way, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) work to provide assistance and resources. However, they can only do this with support from the community.
Our friends, neighbors, and family are the ones who are struggling. We can’t turn a blind eye or pretend that hunger and homelessness only happen to “those people.” We all have a stake in preventing these issues.
We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving and Chanukah is right around the corner. As we feel grateful for the blessings that we enjoy day-in and day-out, I urge each one of us to make a pledge to turn our thoughts into actions. We can help prepare food for shelters, deliver meals to shut-ins, and contribute to reputable local charities such as THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Jewish Community Food Fund that help people facing hardship. We can ask friends to donate to a charity in honor of an important event in our lives, rent Centerpieces for Tzedakah from Jewish Community Services (JCS) for special occasions, and do family activities with our children to help people who are in need.
The key question is: What can each and every one of us do in the coming year to alleviate the problems of homelessness and hunger in our community and beyond? Through our efforts, scenes like the row of boxes on the street or the soup kitchens filled to overflowing every day can become only memories in the not so distant future.