Land of the 10,000 homeless

It’s not my job to judge whether someone is needy — rather to help all without judgment.

It is estimated that on an average night in Minnesota there are more than 9,000 people homeless, with approximately 3,000 living in Hennepin County alone. When I think of what an average night can mean in our freezing state, the statistics become more discomforting. Of the 3,000 in Hennepin County, 60 percent are believed to be women and children, and 25 percent are military veterans. The largest demographic are children accompanying a single parent. ItâÄôs a sickening thought. In 2006, Minneapolis and Hennepin County started a 10-year plan to end homelessness called âÄúHeading Home Hennepin.âÄù The program has received millions of dollars in federal money for âÄúpreventing homelessness and quickly getting people out of shelters and into housing,âÄù according to their Web site. Despite these efforts, shelters in Minneapolis have become crowded. Perhaps this is due to the recent economic slowdown, or maybe some other greater factor is at play. Regardless, the homeless in our community are not soon disappearing. The way a society treats its destitute reflects deeply upon its moral character. We show our Minnesota Nice to the homeless, but more often, especially on a personal level, there is a tendency to ignore the problem. While the efforts of shelters and other programs are commendable, it takes the personal engagement of the community to address a problem so large. Homelessness is not something a government program alone can solve. When I was a wee high-schooler, I went on a trip to Chicago early one spring. I come from Mankato, a pinprick compared to Minneapolis, and the number of homeless surprised me. Moreover, I didnâÄôt know how to respond to their panhandling. I learned to avoid making eye contact and to say âÄúUh, sorryâÄù to the people who approached me. It was simply the response mechanism I felt I had to develop. But many times when I was with my friend, I was struck that he actually gave to panhandlers when he could have bought food for someone holding a sign reading âÄúhungry.âÄù He told me you should always help out people in need without judgment, and thatâÄôs a lesson I’ve taken with me. I donâÄôt know why it hadnâÄôt occurred to me before. But, as I would help out a friend or a family member, I should also do so to a stranger âÄî including the homeless. I know there are those who say that money given to the homeless is just money that will end up fueling their drug or alcohol habits, which may sometimes be true. But need I remind you of the parable of the weeds and tares? I donâÄôt think it is my job to decide the truly needy from the not-so-needy. Rather, my job is to help all equally. The kind of assistance many homeless people need doesn’t always have to involve giving money. Donations of supplies âÄî including food or warm clothing âÄî and helping find shelter are all great. But volunteering your time or just treating the homeless with common courtesy can also go a long way. Programs that give those they help a sense of dignity are the best. Last week at the Street Soccer USA Cup in Washington, D.C., the defending champs and holder of last year’s fair play trophy, Minneapolis, lost their title to a fierce San Francisco team. The competition brought together players from the 16 league cities united not just in their love for soccer but also in their homelessness. Street Soccer USA is a social organization that seeks not only to engage its athletes but also to address more serious problems many have in their lives, such as mental health and substance abuse issues. LetâÄôs root for the Minneapolis team and the community that it represents, because they are part of our own. The homeless compete in a much harder competition than you or I may ever know âÄî but for them, itâÄôs not a game. If you were in their situation, youâÄôd want all the helping fans you could get. Thomas Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]