opinion: Don't forget those who are struggling during this season of thankfulness and giving
A couple of years ago, we had an area just off the express way (I94 and Ann Arbor Saline Road), behind the commuter lot, that was called ‘Tent City.' It was an area where some of the city's homeless had set up camp. The powers that be cleared the whole area down to the dirt. Where brush and bushes at one time stood, now all was cleared and only trees stood.
A year later, I happened to notice that Tent City was on the other side of the overpass, behind Applebee's, hidden by the brush and trees. I could just barely make out a couple of tents, one of which was blue, and a pile of firewood. We would drive by it often, many times a day. My kids were inquisitive. One day it, too, disappeared, bulldozed down to the ground. I think this was right before President Obama came to town for the University of Michigan commencement.
Where did those people go? Are they still homeless? Just somewhere else out of sight?
Homelessness has been a conversation of late. On the way to my son's school, every day we would pass a church that serves breakfast to people who otherwise wouldn't have a breakfast. My son, only 4 at the time, told the his brothers about it. In his own words, it was clear he understood that some people didn’t have a nice place to call home or have food for breakfast.
And just this past weekend, we saw a man with a sign 'Single Dad' at the expressway exit. We did pull over and give the guy a couple of dollars, which then brought on a conversation about whether we were helping or hurting. We ended up figuring that if it was a scam, a couple of dollars was something we could part with. On the other hand, if the guy was truly in need, maybe a couple of dollars could help. Who knows?
And there is something to knowing exactly where one's money is going. Giving to big organizations, one has to account for overhead. Money is given in services to people, but how often does someone get $20 to go spend as needed? Just look at all of the money poured into New Orleans. How much of that money ever got into the hands of the people who needed it?
The question of needs and wants also arises. Can one give without any strings attached? What if the money is spent in ways that we don't support? Don't give anything? Or find something that one can support? It is hard to find any fault with something like Warm the Children where kids are allowed to purchase outerwear.
Not too long after some of these conversations, we watched the American Girl movie, ‘Kit Kittredge.' Clearly I didn’t know enough about the movie beforehand, but we watched it anyway. I was thinking... "American Girl... how gritty can it get?" It was all about the World War II, the depression and the economy back in the 1940s: people losing their homes to foreclosure, hobos, orphans, soup kitchens, rations, gardens, job loss wow there was a lot packed into that little movie.
And sadly, it was somewhat similar to our current economy. Here we are at war, and even if we are not in a war-torn country, we are seeing its effects on all of us. People are suffering. People have lost family members. I know they call it a recession, but it certainly has taken its toll. I even wonder if later on they will call it a depression. People are unemployed, people are lined up at soup kitchens, and more and more people are asking for help, more than in the recent past.
I know as a family, we are grateful every day and so fortunate when so many others are really suffering in the current climate.
It has been heavy on my mind and heavy on my children’s mind as there are so many reminders during the holiday season of ways we can help those who are struggling. I do think the visual reminder of Tent City made more of an impact. Tent City had real people; they were not just some generic faces that we throw money into a kettle for.
That constant reminder or face of our society is why Tent City irritated so many people and why people were so incensed — because it reminds them that there are people less fortunate and that not everyone can pull themselves up out of this mess. And there is a face attached.
Maybe, due to our current economic situation, there is a little more understanding for the homeless because many people understand how hard it is to get a job this day in age. My teenage girls will have a hard time finding jobs this summer because the jobs that they used to be able to get easily are now being taken by people in their 30s and 40s.
Many people are a couple of paychecks away from being homeless or at least a couple of paychecks away from maybe having to give up our warm homes or not being able to shop for quality food. Maybe no health insurance?
Opportunities are everywhere for those that want to help, whether it's through your child's school's food drive or an adopt-a-family program or Warm the Children. There are many avenues to help, including many through religious communities, homeless shelters and schools.
The holiday season seems like a perfect time (but definitely not the only time!) to acknowledge all that we are thankful for. Tonight, as I baked cookies, watched Glee and Charlie Brown's Christmas, in my warm house, with my dishwasher humming and too many lights on, I couldn't help but feel comfortable and safe. With all of the stories this time of year that revolve around love and family, is it too much to ask to help others, if in a position to do so? It is also a wonderful time, but not the only time, to give back to our community and help out. It is a wonderful time to welcome the stranger, the visitor and the people who are struggling. We all hope that we never find ourselves at the mercy of strangers, but if we do, it is our duty to accept help. And when we can, we can give... whether it be our time, our resources or of ourselves.