My Mother the Homeless

by Osefame Ewaleifoh, PhD/MPH Student

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”– lamentations

A few days after the now infamous polar vortex, walking down Michigan Avenue I was horrified at the site in front of me. Being a skinny African from latitude 4 degrees (right below the equator), anything below 45 degrees for me is cold. Still the cold on this day was a different story. My fingers were numb and I could barely feel my toes. This was possibly the coldest I had ever been in my life. In the midst of this freezing cold I looked up in front of me and there was a woman huddled up on the floor – in a corner with a simple sign, “Am hungry”.

Image

photo by humbletree

My heart broke in a thousand little pieces as my eyes refused to believe what it was seeing. I had never stopped to consider for one second- what happens to the homeless in the winter?

As a 17-year-old boy coming to study in the U.S, I never expected to see a homeless person in America. Like most immigrants I had a picture in my head: America was too beautiful, sophisticated, successful and progressive to tolerate homelessness – I was wrong.

I still remember the very first time I saw a homeless person in the U.S, in Houston to be precise, it struck me as extremely disorienting. How could anyone survive on the street? How could there be homeless people in a country with so much means? and why does no one seem to care?

Slowly however, this disorientation was quickly replaced by a combination of apathy, acceptance, and absentmindedness. Seeing the homelessness became a norm. Maybe this is what city life is really all about – becoming numb to the injustice around us as we focus on our individual dreams? But is this really normal or is it a disgrace to all of us who walk by indifferent and absent-minded, numbed by the pressures and demands of our own lives?

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photo by Ai Gie

In January 2012, 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in the U.S (1). The latest report on homelessness nationally reports that “a majority of persons identified as homeless were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing, but 38% were unsheltered, living on the streets, or in cars, abandoned buildings, or other places not intended for human habitation.”(1)

Clearly homelessness is an extremely complicated issue that no single individual or agency can address alone. Still we must ask ourselves at least two questions. First, what can we do personally as individuals and as communities to address the issue of homelessness? Second, and perhaps most importantly, what would you do if the homeless woman huddled on the street corner in the freezing cold was your mother?

Call to action:  For those interested in working with the homeless population in the city please visit  and volunteer at the Chicago Alliance to end homelessness at: http://thechicagoalliance.org/whatyoucando.aspx or donate to the alliance at https://npo.justgive.org/nonprofits/donate.jsp?ein=36-4272272.

Alternative you can volunteer or contribute at a neighborhood soup kitchen by: visiting a just harvest at http://www.ajustharvest.org/volunteer/ or the greater Chicago food depository at http://www.chicagosfoodbank.org/site/PageServer?pagename=diff_volunteer_volatagency

Reference:

1) National alliance to end homelessness: the state of homelessness in America 2013 report. http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-2013

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About NPHR Blog (223 Articles)
The is the blog of the Northwestern Public Health Review journal. The blog and journal are both student run and contain research articles, opinions, interviews and other content pertaining to public health.

2 Comments on My Mother the Homeless

  1. What irony , just finished reading on pinterest of abandoned homes and churches , and now the article you published on abandoned people , hmmm , How bizarre humanity is !
    How is this possible you might ask , but I ask you to look within,
    complacency and a lack of compassion are usually the answers You never know if this could be your future or someone you love. Sometimes the higher you are ,the harder the fall.
    If we have money surely, the point if it all is to bring happiness to someone elses life ; therefore increasing your own happiness.
    Gratitude and humility are the foundations of life without either we are soulless.
    Be grateful by showing compassion, for oneday you may need it to , show humility by reaching out that the homeless are equal to you and worthy of being recognised as an equal.

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