Recently St. Louis Rams defensive ends Williams Hayes and Chris Long became homeless for a night. Mayor Anthony Silva of Stockton, California, spent the night among the homeless in his city to find out what it was like. In Durban, South Africa, thousands of miles away on another continent, they’re having a homeless for a night event to bring awareness to the homeless people in their city. Even the American Legion in Los Angeles is getting involved and spending the night on the streets with the homeless. The question is: is awareness enough?
According to HomeAid, a leading non-profit provider of housing for the homeless, as many as 3.5 million Americans are homeless on any given night. Veterans Affairs states that as many as 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night with twice as many homeless during the course of a year.
The top causes of homelessness are many. Domestic violence, a traumatic event in the family, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mental illness and any other traumatic and unplanned event that happens to an individual family. Although alcohol may sometimes play a part in homelessness, particularly for veterans, the situation is far more complex, and for those who are homeless, difficult to overcome although some, like valedictorian Trameka Pope of Chicago, found the courage to do so.
For veterans, they come from every period and are just as likely to have served during peacetime as wartime. Vietnam veterans are particularly hard hit because of their experiences with PTSD.
Even though bringing awareness to homelessness may not seem like the answer, Hayes and Long told ESPN that the experience changed their lives. Hayes said he hated the way other people looked at him while Long said he had often turned the other way when confronted with a homeless person. Long gave the following as their reason for trying the experiment of being homeless for a night.
“We don’t understand. We weren’t hoping to understand. We were just hoping to gain a little perspective and put kind of a feeling with the cause that we had been [donating to] from a distance the last couple of years.”
Prior to spending time on the streets as homeless, Hayes and Long’s only contact with the homeless was writing checks to a local charity called the St. Patrick Center. Hayes has since gotten involved with the center, and he has been encouraged to use his platform as a professional athlete to raise awareness for those who are homeless.
As for Mayor Michael Silva, he told News 10 that it was an opportunity to challenge businesses to get involved and help address the problem as the city grows.
“We’re out here to figure out how we can put our resources together to bring mental health services and other services such as drug counseling, alcohol counseling, and bring those services directly to the homeless folks here in Stockton.”
For the American Legion, the homeless for a night event was an opportunity to deliver care packages, assistance, and then bring hope to veterans. It was also an opportunity to bring awareness to veteran homelessness and raise money to help veterans overcome their issues.
Do you believe homelessness for a night events are a way to help those who are homeless?
[Photo Credit Overpasses for America]