I was driving my daughter to school recently when she noticed a man standing on a street corner in Bangor. He was wearing several layers of clothing, some of which appeared tattered and old. He carried two large bags over his shoulders and was braving the cold December rain.
My daughter asked me, “Why is that man standing in the rain? He must be cold.” I responded, “He may not have anywhere else to go today.” This opened a barrage of additional questions from her related to the general theme of her inquiry: Why do some people not have anywhere to live?
Over the years as I have worked closely with people who are without a home, I have noticed sadly that many adults, like children, ask the same question: Why or how can some people be homeless?
Because of the complexity of our human experience and the dynamic and the multilayered societal forces of our communities, state and nation, the reality is that in the absence of a concise answer to the question, many find themselves blaming the individual for their homelessness. Perhaps placing blame on a person for not having a home helps some to experience less guilt. Perhaps it offers an excuse for larger societal problems. Perhaps many people simply cannot grasp the concept that, even in Bangor and across our state, many people are homeless, or near homeless, every night.
In Bangor it is estimated that approximately 1,000 people — children and families included — are without a place to call home, and the current economic situation threatens to increase these numbers. At the Acadia Recovery Community, which provides an emergency shelter, extended shelter, transitional housing and apartments, we are seeing more than 60 people a night in our emergency shelter.
Those of us fortunate not to experience homelessness have no idea what it must be like. Have you ever considered what it would feel like not to know where you might sleep that night, to wonder when you might eat your next meal, to have to carry all of your personal belongings with you in a bag throughout the day? People who do not have homes drift under the radar of our society’s collective awareness.
They become invisible under the status quo.
After 11 years of hearing their stories, I remain shocked and saddened. I heard last week of a woman who stays in a shelter and uses her money to purchase baby formula for her infant whom she can not currently care for, rather than spend the money on herself for necessities many of us never consider going without.
A 50-something man who was homeless recently had a chance to eat some vegetables donated to a shelter from a local school. As he ate the vegetables his face brightened and he said he could not remember when he last ate some carrots and tomatoes.
When I ask people who use the Acadia Recovery Community emergency homeless shelter what we as an organization can provide to make their stay more comfortable, they do not respond with unrealistic requests. Instead they ask for items such as toothbrushes and soap — daily necessities that they can use to help themselves feel better and improve their lives.
As we celebrate the holiday season and work together to brighten one another’s days, take a moment to reflect on those who are without a place to call home. Continually challenge yourself to ask: Why do some people not have a place to live, even it if feels uncomfortable to do so. Then ask yourself, “What can I do to help?”
Brent Scobie is Acadia Hospital’s administrator of substance abuse services and Acadia’s recovery community.