Christmas is different for the homeless - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Christmas is different for the homeless

Christmas — the Holidays — however we might address this time of year, is for many, and likely most people, a time filled with joy and love … and often enough, anxiety. For some the Holidays bring more depression and desperation.

Desperation … there are more than 3,000 homeless people in Baltimore and  8,000 homeless people in San Diego tonight; many of them will not have a roof over their heads. I know of a couple that ran out of their SSI money two days before Christmas and were about to be evicted from the residence hotel where they lived. A mutual friend stepped in and paid for their room so they would have a home for at least the Holidays.

Homeless many with steps for a bed and pillow. (Screen shot from YouTube video)

Homeless many with steps for a bed and pillow.
(Screen shot from YouTube video)

A residence hotel for the poor, but this couple can’t even afford it for a month on their combined income from two SSI checks.

It says a lot about the cost of living in a city like San Diego, — and about how we as a society treat the least among us. How society wants to make sure the less fortunate know how wretchedly poor they are and we will keep them that way.

Some of them won’t even notice it’s Christmas, or any other holiday. For many of the poor, a holiday is just another day. There’s no gift-wrapping, no caroling … nah, none of that. Maybe a trip to the Sally or Father Joe’s for a meal.

There are people in the world that do care about the poor. But, they can’t afford a lobbying firm that sees to the needs of the poor, or even the average American family. So, between the moments when they pester a politician or two about helping the less fortunate, they actually get in the street and do something to help.

Most people have no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a free meal delivered in a homeless shelter. Every other soul sharing in that meal is in the exact same place in life, but there’s one — no, about 40 percent actually — that look around and think, “What am I doing here? I’m college educated, honorably discharged from the military; a year ago I had a nicely furnished condo …”

Forty percent of the homeless have college educations. About 40 percent are military veterans — let’s be honest: we don’t support the troops very well, especially after they get out and become vets.

The people who volunteer to help feed the homeless realize, if they didn’t know before they entered the shelter, how dehumanizing the embarrassment can be for many of those people waiting to be fed. It’s in the averted eyes. Have you ever run into a homeless person panhandling on the corner and thought, “I know him/her”!

Maybe you averted your eyes because really, “What can I do?”

On Saturday 1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits because the federal government won’t extend them. In the recent budget deal brokered in Congress, unemployment extensions were left out. How’s that for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year? That’s how we do the neediest among us.

For the majority of Americans that will go unnoticed. It doesn’t affect most Americans directly, but you may know someone who has been out of work, unable to find a job and now faces the possibility of being forced to live on the street. That’s not liberal hyperbole, it’s incredibly scary reality for millions of Americans — not just the ones facing the loss of unemployment benefits. How do we treat the least among us?

Most of us celebrated the holiday the way we’ve become accustomed to over the years, with family and friends. We really like to be with loved ones, people we are close to; with whom we have warm, affectionate — and sometimes contentious — relationships. That’s as it should be. Christmas, this solstice, is a time to reflect on our blessings, on our good fortune at having loved ones with whom we can share a meal or a day.

Curtis C., a close friend of the author, disappeared into homelessness a few years ago, was found (when this photo was taken June 5, 2011) and then disappeared again. Once a family man with a good-paying job, life took a bad turn. He was lost into alcoholism, from which he was able to recover, but he couldn't escape his other demons. As a result he was never able to find a permanent job. Curtis was found dead in September, sleeping where many of the homeless find shelter: under a bridge. Rest In Peace, Curtis my friend. (Photo by author)

Curtis C., a close friend of the author, disappeared into homelessness a few years ago, was found (when this photo was taken June 5, 2011) and then disappeared again. Once a family man with a good-paying job, life took a bad turn. He was lost into alcoholism, from which he was able to recover, but he couldn’t escape his other demons. As a result he was never able to find a permanent job. Curtis was found dead in September, sleeping where many of the homeless find shelter: under a bridge. Rest In Peace, Curtis my friend.
(Photo by author)

We may pay attention to the news about retail sales because there’s that other reality of Christmas — buying billions of dollars worth of gifts. Spend, spend, spend — isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

We may even pay attention to the two minutes the local news devotes to the help being given the poor at this time of year — we might even be spurred to lend a hand in some way. Rarely is there an over-abundance of volunteers or donations.

Experience has proven to me the gifts are just a pretext for the more important part of the holiday: letting the ones you love know they are still important in your life and it’s a feeling that lasts 365 days a year, not just these few days we get together or send gifts back and forth.

Experience has also shown me that there are Americans struggling tonight and every night, including in the cold cities of the “Snow Belt.” And one guy, my friend Eric, saw a need and instead of using his money for holiday things he didn’t really need, he instead made sure two people would have a roof over their heads this Christmas. That’s the meaning of Christmas.

Be safe and enjoy the time you spend with family and friends. Happy Holidays, or if you prefer, Merry Christmas.

How one man decided to spend his Christmas.


About the author

Tim Forkes

Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative college newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment issues, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the business of government and business was so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that reality. Contact the author.
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