It is that time of year when music pipes through Macy’s tiny ceiling speakers and every other department store, spreading good tidings. The music overwhelms radio waves, television commercials, and our own ears.
The festive atmosphere inspires us to send holiday greeting cards with the latest, best pictures of our families. We also feel the urge to setup holiday decorations, and hang the lights outside.
All these holiday activities makes you want to go home for the holidays. If you have a home.
A Merry Christmas?
I once saw a handful of youth camped out on the edge of Hollywood, with their tattered clothes, dirty sleeping bags, and a few tin cans scattered about. Obvious signs of their homelessness. They had hung a few dull ornaments on a tiny Charlie Brown-like Christmas tree.
I’m sure their nighttime dreams of holiday music were more like, “Silent Night, Unholy Night…”
Being homeless during the holidays is especially tough. When you are down and struggling, you really do not want to see happy, smiling people walking through the malls as if they are untouched by the struggling economy.
Experiencing homelessness during the holidays is more like having the Grinch swoop down from his mountaintop hideaway to take away every morsel of human dignity, along with your ability to buy food, clean clothes, and housing.
There is nothing holy about having the Grinch’s beady eyes and wicked smile peering down at your inhumane state of poverty.
When I was young, I used to ask, “How does Santa Claus come to a house that doesn’t have a chimney?” Today, I ask, “How does old Saint Nick come to your house, if you don’t have one?”
Is Christmas really merry? I see that fake Santa Claus ringing a cheery bell in front of a red charity donation pot. Toss a few quarters in, perhaps even dollars, and we feel justified indulging in a day full of shopping.
Inevitably, the local news station parks in front of a toy give-away event, where a homeless shelter passes out free Nike shoes and brand new dolls. The lines weave around the blighted neighborhood, filled with people who have been robbed by the Grinch.
A few new toys for the holidays warm our hearts, but holiday give-aways do not do much to help a family overcome extreme poverty.
The Rest of the Year
I sometimes think a homeless person parked on a sidewalk outside of one of America’s bustling shopping centers is really looking at a snow globe, with its perfect little figures and dreamlike snow environment. On the outside, the reality of homelessness is everywhere, but inside the tiny little plastic globe is the dream of Christmas.
Is Christmas just a dream for the hundreds of thousands of Americans sleeping on our streets?
The phone calls at the homeless agencies I run ring off the hook during these holidays. Everyone wants to volunteer—cook a meal, bring a few toys. Much needed help during these busy times.
But where are they the rest of the year?
I used to dream that Christmas was everyday of the year when I was a kid. As an adult, I still have that dream, but not Christmas for me.
My dream is that every day of the year, the phone would ring off the hook of homeless agencies with people wanting to help.
When I was growing up, I used to have this really long list for Santa Claus. I would print very neatly the toys I wanted. A Sony Walkman, Sting-Ray bicycle, and slot cars.
Today, I have a different kind of Christmas list:
- Generosity – Please return the generosity in this country when caring Americans literally gave millions to the hurting and homeless affected by Hurricane Katrina. Homelessness across America still needs help today.
- Change – I wish the traditional homeless care givers will embrace change. Food programs and limited shelter beds are good, but long-term housing is better.
- More Homes – We need hundreds of thousands of permanent homes linked with caring supportive services, if we are to end the plight of homelessness in America.
- More Housing Vouchers – Building new homes takes years. Helping people pay rent now gets people into housing immediately. Vouchers are the quick answer.
I wonder if I was good enough this year for Santa to grant me my wishes.
Photo credit: purplepix