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Patricia C Behnke

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The Homeless are Everyone's Problem
by Patricia C Behnke   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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Ignoring the homeless will not make them go away

When I go to work out at the gym, I sometimes end up with more than finely-tuned muscles. I come away with bits of conversation that force my brain into its own form of calisthenics.

Homelessness made its way into the conversation this morning.

“I went into the Basilica the other morning,” one woman began, “and there was a homeless person sleeping on the back pew. You know some of these churches in the area do so much to help with the downtrodden.”

I thought how refreshing it was to have someone understand that the church is exactly the place where those who have been beaten down by life should find refuge. But she had more to say on the subject.

“I’m all for helping the homeless,” she continued. “But I’m not so sure I want them in my church when I come in for mass.”

I continued pumping my legs and decided not to respond.

Actually I had no response to give, but the words of this woman have not left me alone today as I continue with my work.

The other day at yet another session at the gym, one woman said she always gave money or food to one man who spent his days on the downtown plaza. She described the man.

“I saw that very same man with a laptop computer the other day,” someone else added.

Both women made the assumption that since he had a laptop computer, he did not need their help. They are not alone in their assumptions.

I conducted an interview with a victims advocate in Gainesville for a story recently. She told me that she finds difficulty in educating those on the front lines dealing with victims. She pointed to a case where a homeless woman had been raped. The police officer first on the scene told the victim’s advocate that he did not believe the victim. When questioned as to why not, he responded that the woman was wearing new shoes despite the fact she claimed to be homeless.

“She had just been to the shelter where they were giving away new shoes,” said the victims advocate, “yet this police officer formed an opinion right away based on that simple thing.”

Homelessness becomes more of an issue in Florida during the winter months. Retirees with disposable income and motor homes are not the only snowbirds to visit the state. The homeless will hitch rides from Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Ohio in order to escape the harsh weather in the north.

Several years ago while doing a story on poverty in northwestern Alachua County, I received a call from High Springs Catholic Charities. A woman had just shown up on their doorstep from Wisconsin. She had hitched a ride with a truck driver but could only get as far as north Florida before he dropped her off. She received a small disability check each month and with the little she had leftover she rented a storage unit on the outskirts of town. That was all the money she had left but she thought having a shelter for a month would give her time to figure out how to go further south.

I visited her at the storage unit where she had stacked blankets from Catholic Charities on the floor to form her bed. She suffered from mental illness, but she had enough sense to literally come in from the cold.

A phrase popped into my head this morning when I listened to the woman pontificating on her solutions for taking care of the homeless at a location where she did not have to see it.

“There go I but for the grace of God.”

Supposedly Saint Augustine made this comment upon seeing a vagrant on the street. Wherever its origin, it is one I often say to myself as a reminder to keep judgments out of my head. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 39 percent of the homeless in the United States in 2003 were under the age of 18, making them homeless through an accident of birth. Further, the coalition’s research indicates that 40 percent of homeless men have served in the armed forces and 23 percent of the single adult homeless population suffers from a mental illness.

NCH also found that inadequate wages put housing as a luxury for many Americans. One study even found that 17 percent of the homeless are employed, but with a minimum wage job, a person would have to work 89 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment in most cities.

Any one of us has the potential to become homeless. Kicking them out of our churches and off of our park benches and away from our homes will not make the problem disappear.

The only way to make it disappear is to fight for living wages and to insist on services for the mentally ill and for veterans, and children must become a first priority. Working together to solve the problem means God has graced us all.

Reader Reviews for "The Homeless are Everyone's Problem"

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Reviewed by Damien Rickner
Thank you for taking the time on this subject. Whether someone be "insane" or "lazy" it is completely beside the point. Even if I were fool enough to believe these people inferior to me, I still wouldn't want to confine myself to a beautiful prison on a hill to escape the real world effects of desperate people left to fend for themselves. It's impossible to see the logic in that, even with a cold dead heart.
Reviewed by - - - - - TRASK
Estimated 43 To 50 Million USA Citizens Live Sleep In Your Our Streets,Most Little Children Starving = Being Raped, Killed By Pervert Child Molesters-----Can't Believe It -HUH!

I Was Homeless For Over 5 Months Slept in My Car Los Angelese Sleazy Mexifornia Streets--NOBODY BUT NOBODY GIVES GOOD SHIT...

US.Gov Polticians "Satans Puppets" Try Tell You Homeless Are Mentally Ill---I'll See Them You All In Holy Hell Long Before I Ever Get There!

What Makes Any Of You Think You Are INFALLIBLE!

Credit For Illuminating Write!

Reviewed by Reginald Johnson
A timely reminder of things not yet done ... a refresher course in life, liberty, and humility.

Warmest regards ...

Reginald V. Johnson
Reviewed by Pier Tyler
I enjoyed reading this wonderful article. Yes we are....

(Any one of us has the potential to become homeless. Kicking them out of our churches and off of our park benches and away from our homes will not make the problem disappear.

The only way to make it disappear is to fight for living wages and to insist on services for the mentally ill and for veterans, and children must become a first priority. Working together to solve the problem means God has graced us all.)

Your words ring true. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
So true! It doesn't help when we cut programs designed to help them; it only makes a problem all the more dire! Powerful, much needed write; thank you!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :(
Reviewed by Birgit and Roger Pratcher
A very good article! You are absolutely right, the wages are a joke, too many have to try to get two and three jobs to make ends meet, if they are lucky enough to find that much employment, or any at all. Children, mentally and physiacally ill, as well as veterans should be supported in better AND friendlier ways. Thanks for sharing this article.
Birgit and Roger
Reviewed by Edward Saint-Ivan

I have mixed feelings toward your article. As a recovering OCD {Obcessive Compulsive Disorder} I almost ended up homeless.
However, unlike the majority of homeless I worked my ass off to get better. I tried many different drugs, therapy, and applied for jobs. I accomplished more inspite of my OCD than some healthy people.
I dont doubt some homeless really do need help and could lead a productive life but most are lazy.
Reviewed by Sandy Knauer
Thank you, so much. You've touched on a topic very close to my heart, and I'm grateful to you for this thoughtful, enlightening article. The 'assumptions' people make are astounding, lack logic and compassion, and are more common than I want to believe. I've written a few short stories, focusing on ways in which people become homeless through circumstances that are no reflection on who they are. I've also written an article 'There, But For the Grace of God, Go I' that I think points out faulty thinking.
Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
Thank you for not forgetting those less fortunate. It only takes one disaster, natural or man made to put us in their shoes. I've been there. Thank God, no more...but I have these niggling fears that it could happen again. It could. A powerful, thought provoking write, well penned.

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
Reviewed by Jake George
I loved this. As a fellow Floridian I too see the homeless everyday. Not so much as a nuisance but as you say “There but for the grace of G-d go I.” I find myself saying that more and more lately.

Over the past twenty years I have embraced my Native American culture more and more. In our tribe, the elders, widows, children and those who cannot care for themselves are fed and housed first. Then the able bodied women, children then men.

We care for our own. The problem we have as a native race is we have started to pick up the general public’s thoughts about homeless and insane. We do need to help them. They are our responsibility and when given the chance to give back most, not all, will take up the mantle of responsibility and try to help.

When I was growing up my dad befriended a bum. He would stop by when traveling through Rochester NY in the summers and stay a few days. He had the greatest stories. But one thing he said to my six or seven year old mind stuck with me for the past forty-five years. He used to tell us that no one gave to a down and out person like another bum. He would say, “When a well off person gives you a dime they don’t think so much about it. They know they have ten more in their pockets. When a bum gives you a dime it is often all he has in the world. It may be the difference of his eating that day or not. Whether or not if he sleeps in a flophouse or under a bridge. That person gave you ALL they had.

They can sleep in my park or church anytime.
Reviewed by den (Reader)
Patricia, Another good article. One of my last column's "Karen's Commentary" was also about homelessness. You can read it at
Here's some more food for thought from

From: Housing Statistics

The National Low Income Housing Coalition Releases Out of Reach

The 'Housing Wage', defined as the hourly wage (at 40 hrs/week) needed to afford the US Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a 2-bedroom unit is $12.47, more than twice the federal minimum wage, which continues to languish at

* A 1998 HUD report found that the number of very low income renter households with "worst case" housing needs has remained at an all-time high of 5.3 million families. "Worst case" is defined by renters who receive no federal housing assistance, earn less than 50% of the local area median, and pay more than half of their income in rent or live in severely substandard housing.

Take care and keep up the good work!
Karen M Hale
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