I met Sue and Chris last summer at a campground in the
eastern panhandle of West Virginia. They appeared to be just two
ordinary campers. It was after some casual conversation that I
learned they had been living in the campground for the past two
weeks. Park authorities had informed them their time was up and
they would have to move somewhere else. Sue, a young lady in her
late twenties, told me they had no place else to go. Chris, a
young man in his early thirties, had lost his job, had no money
to pay rent, and no family or friends in the area. Everything
they owned was in boxes. Some in their tent, others outside on
the ground covered as best they could from the elements. They
had little food and no way to keep any perishables cold. They
carried water from a nearby spring. They were fortunate in that
they had an old vehicle that did provide them with
transportation, but it was unreliable for the long trip to
Fairmont, West Virginia where Sue had family that could provide
them shelter until they could get back on their feet. Chris said
he had tried to find employment, but he was unable to afford a
haircut and potential employers would not even talk to him
because of his looks. Reality set in. I had heard and read
about homeless people, but nothing had prepared me for the
hopelessness and despair of people with no place to live. I have
always been an avid camper and enjoy living in the elements for a
week or so. But I can pack up my things and go home to a nice
warm, dry bed, a hot shower, a refrigerator of food, and a place
to wash my dirty clothes. I could not turn my back on these
people. I could not return to my safe haven knowing these two
people were in such a plight. I was with a group of campers and
had no personal transportation, so, I told them I would return in
two days and help them get to Fairmont. Arrangements had to be
made to go home and get my own car so that I could return.
Knowing time was short I left them what food I had with me and
drove all night to get home. After a few hours sleep my
girlfriend and I drove back to the campground. No words can
express the looks on the faces of Sue and Chris when we arrived.
However hopeful they were, they still had great doubts that a
stranger would come back and help them. I spent the night at the
campground and we rose early the next day to get their few
belongings packed in their truck and my car. It was then I
realized that even had they been able to rely on their truck,
there was no way they could have packed everything they had into
one vehicle. It was heartbreaking to see that many of their
personal belongings had been damaged by mildew and dampness.
This was early summer, what would they have done in winter?
Finally, we were ready to head back. We bought them breakfast
and set out on the long trip. It was a slow journey with many
stops for gas and to ensure that their vehicle did not overheat
or break down. Almost six hours later we arrived at Sue's
parents house. Finally they had a roof over their heads. I
could sleep that night. There were two less homeless people in
the world.
Homeless is a very small word for a very big problem.
Foremost, the homeless are people. People who no longer have a
place to live. Homelessness has its own unique causes, problems,
and corrections.
Experts disagree on the number of homeless in our society.
Beth Springs estimated in Christianity Today that there are
between 350,000 to three million people living on America's
streets (15). However, David Whiteman reported in U.S. News and
World Report that a 1988 study by Urban Institute estimates the
total to be closer to six hundred thousand ("Myths" 27). The
1990 Census failed to document the actual number of homeless
people in our society which means actual numbers of homeless will
probably never be known. In Christianity Today Katie Smith
predicted that by the year 2000 the total number of homeless
could reach nineteen million if nothing is done to intervene (8).
Experts also dispute on who makes up the homeless
population. The first person that comes to mind when we say
homeless is the stereotyped old skid-row bum.