Sometimes, I wish I had a venue to scream a shout-out at the top of my lungs so that everyone could hear about the amazing people who are working to end homelessness for themselves and others.
They are hidden in the minutia of neighborhood debates about the location of homeless programs, or smothered by community leaders who take credit for anything positive that occurs in their jurisdictions. They are unheard, because most of society turns a blind eye toward impoverished Americans.
But what if CNN, MTV, Hulu, Netflix, Fox News, and radio and print media gave us one hour to tell America about the real superstars in the compassionate drama of helping people get off of this country’s streets?
My honorees would not include the chief executives of homelessness agencies who, though they certainly work hard to keep their programs’ doors open, are not really on the “front lines.”
Nor would these shout-outs recognize celebrities who donate their money, or political leaders who direct taxpayers’ money to fund homelessness programs.
Not the multi-million-dollar foundations that are legally required to give their money to charities.
No. My shout-outs would go to the silent, hidden heroes in America’s fight to end homelessness. Those who give hope and inspiration without receiving any credit.
That middle-aged veteran who spent his youth fighting overseas, only to later live in a makeshift shack in the hills overlooking Hollywood. On the day he had the courage to walk across the threshold of a new apartment, after spending decades of his life outdoors, he became a true American hero. Even though the only people who gave him a pat on the back were the outreach workers and case manager who helped him move into his new home.
Or the boy who converted his Bar-Mitzvah celebration into a fundraising event to help house homeless people, by asking every guest to donate money to his favorite homeless agency instead of buying presents. That is a truly mature decision.
My list of hidden heroes would include the tween girl who spent the last several years living in homeless shelters while her mom worked to get them back on their feet. All the while, that girl still went to school and earned good grades. That is courage among adversity.
And the case worker who recently graduated from University, with the opportunity to land a six-figure job. But, instead, she sits in a cubicle at a homelessness agency, earning a third of what she could be earning in the for-profit sector, so that she can help people struggling on the streets get into housing. That is sacrifice.
My shout-outs would include the busy executive working 60 hours per week to keep his company afloat, who still finds the time to get up at 4:30 a.m., three days in a row, to conduct a Vulnerability Index survey of people experiencing homelessness in his neighborhood.
In this country that we call America, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are quietly working to end one of our nation’s most devastating social failures. You won’t see their faces on the cover of a magazine or the front page of a newspaper. They won’t be featured on television, or on popular websites.
The only recognition they receive is when a person they helped get housing says, “Thank you,” or when a case manager hands them their keys and says, “Congratulations.”
Then again, maybe that’s the most important kind of shout-out there is.