I used to have a negative outlook towards homeless people, holding tight to the “they are lazy” and “they did it to themselves” views which had long been drilled into me by friends, Sunday school lessons, and various media portrayals. In a similar fashion, I also scoffed at those who said medical injuries were keeping them out of work. I believed these people could find a way to work if they wanted a home and a job. In my head, it was that simple.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. – Mosiah 4:17-18
I considered myself a hard worker. As a salary manager at a grocery store, I worked anywhere from 50-80 hours per week. I was wise with money and had thousands of dollars in my savings account (not a lot, but I was doing quite well for a 22-year-old with no college degree).
In 2016, everything changed. I had been nursing a wrist injury for a lengthy period, and eventually it became painful enough I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Two wrist surgeries later, my slow recovery and lifting restrictions placed me on medical leave for 11 months. My savings account was completely drained after month eight (even with health insurance covering much of my medical costs).
While on medical leave, I worked hard to change my situation around. I searched far and wide for a new job. My interviewers saw the giant wrap around my arm. Businesses saw me as a liability. Until I was fully recovered and had my lifting restrictions removed, nobody would hire me. Even desk/phone jobs didn’t want me. Because what if I tripped on the stairs, or lifted my chair from one side of the room to the other and doing so injured my wrist further?
I was fortunate to have friends and family available to help. I left my apartment I had been so proud to have and moved in with a friend from my YSA ward. Worst case scenario, I knew I always had a place to stay if I could just afford the gas money back to hometown North Dakota.
I recognize many don’t have those same options available to them. Some have no friends or family available to them for backup housing. Some don’t have any health insurance. Some don’t have money saved in their bank account to help them through for a few months. Some don’t have a job to go back to after they do recover from surgery. Some don’t have a car to take them to a job interview. Those who do become homeless may be restricted in their job search by lack of access to a computer, phone, and shower.
In the United States, medical debt is the top cause of personal bankruptcy. Those with health insurance aren’t immune to this, and those unable to handle the bills often lose their home and wind up in the streets.
Homeless teenagers (also referred to as “unaccompanied youth”) number in the hundreds of thousands. They are forced to the streets due to abuse from a parental figure, faulty transitions with the foster care system, lack of acceptance from their families (particularly affects LGBTQ youth), poverty, and a variety of other reasons.
Other issues triggering homelessness include domestic violence, natural disasters, disability, divorce, mental health, and more. Homeless children number in the hundreds of thousands, taking to the streets alongside their family. The public perception of a drunkard laying on the sidewalk with a beer bottle in hand is a myth, not at all representative of reality.
A year and a half after the first wrist surgery, I still haven’t recovered financially. Debt stemming directly from the surgery and being out of work remains on my shoulders.
Despite the trials I’ve encountered, I’m extremely grateful for the new perspectives I’ve gained. I’ve learned to put myself in other’s shoes, to research what I don’t understand, and to have a tender heart for others. These lessons have proved more valuable than any job or money in my bank account, because I feel an improved version of my old self.
As homelessness continues to be at the heart of the political playground, let us seek to understand, and challenge the rhetoric we grew up with. Only then will we have a chance to discover rational solutions which combat homelessness and better our communities for everyone.
About the author:
Braden Jenks is the founder of The Progressive Mormons project. He is studying addiction counseling at Minot State University and Rio Salado College. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo credit: R~P~M (Photopin.com)