Busting the Myths of Homelessness

October 1st, 2016

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If you don’t think there are any homeless people in your community take a closer look around. What do they look like these days? Veterans of war suffering with PTSD, individuals suffering from mental illness or drug and alcohol problems, single moms running from a domestic violence situation, middle age out of work professionals who can no longer care for their families, and are temporarily squeezed into a relative’s basement. Perhaps a seventeen-year-old female who ran away from an abusive home and now lives in her broken-down car or a disabled adult male, who has no way to care for themself. Another family with a sick child lost everything to pay their medical bills, while down the road a family is working hard making minimum wages and can’t afford food or rent.

I challenged myself to be more aware and took one week to observe the homeless in my surroundings. Suddenly they appeared no longer invisible to me.

At the intersection of Mt. Prospect and Central Rds. in Mt. Prospect I drove by a family of four, mom and dad with two small children sitting on the corner. Dad held a sign up begging for money for food.

Coming out of Macy’s in Schaumburg I discovered an old man asleep on a Starbucks chair, with six overflowing shopping bags holding all his belongings next to him. The heat of the day dripped from his forehead. I said hello, and he didn’t respond. I checked his pulse and he mumbled. He was alive!

In downtown Des Plaines in the Walgreens parking lot an elderly woman sat on a bench mumbling to herself while guarding the cart that held all her belongings.

Near downtown Palatine a car is parked on a neighborhood street. It’s filled to the brim with boxes and a blanket and pillow. I wonder who is sleeping in there at night.

What would you do if you saw a person in need? Drive by too busy to help? Yell out your car window at them to go back to their own country? Or shout out telling them that they are losers littering your neighborhood. Look the other way and pretend not to have seen them? Convince yourself they’re not really homeless. Fool yourself with the myth of my parent’s generation that “bums too lazy to work” or “they’ll use the money to buy drugs or alcohol”. We have all been guilty of such reactions.

Do you know how to help? A new awareness can be the first step to dispelling your stereotypes. If you’re in a hurry make a plan to do some research or donate to the local agencies. Offer them the same respect you would to a friend or family member. Open your heart and respond with kindness and a smile. Make eye contact when you chat with them, it helps them feel visible. Offer them some food or a few dollars. Create a card that lists all the local shelters, pantries and food kitchens. Store your old blankets or clothes in your trunk to donate to the next homeless person you see. Give them the number to Northwest Compass 847-392-2344, or call our outreach program with the location, and time of day, so one of our outreach staff can go help them. Volunteer! Northwest Compass has many opportunities. Giving back restores balance in your community and your soul.

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About the Author
Mary Kay Thill
Mary Kay is a writer with a background in Family Counseling addressing the homeless issues in the Chicagoland Northwest Suburbs. We encourage you to join the conversation by posting your comments and experiences from your own community work and living.

We'd like to hear your thought and ideas. Leave a private suggestion or comments at blog@northwestcompass.org.

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