Our Thanksgiving road trip this year was more than family time for me. Although I cannot be any more grateful for the opportunity to spend time with my family and relatives, I saw a bleaker side of things, too on my trip. Not with my family. But with a community. Maybe with our nation.
I intentionally planned our trip this time so that my children could see a side of life that wasn't what they were used to seeing on a day to day basis. We parked our car at a friend's house and took the subway into the heart of San Francisco where we were staying for 3 nights. So while we were in the city, we walked everywhere (with the exception of our first ever 2 Uber rides when we were pressed for time). When I lived in the bay area, my husband and I used to go up to the city every so often. Then after we moved away, we still visited friends and family there every so often. However, this time, maybe because I am completely aware and living in the present these days, I have to tell you that I saw more homeless people than ever before. Not only did we walk past sections of homeless people, but they were also interspersed amongst all the obviously wealthier people in the city. In a nation where the quality of life for many seem to have improved significantly over the decades, I could not help but wander why there were still so many, if not more homeless people now.
Flashback 3 years ago. After 25+ years of having lost touch with my young aunt (she's only 4 years older than me) due to an 'unforgivable' family situation, I decided to go on a search for her. Knowing that her mother was turning 100 years old soon, and not having had any contact with her, I could not imagine leaving this earth without seeing my own child or knowing how she was doing for the last 25 years. Sadly, when I did finally find my aunt, I learned she was jobless, in poor health and homeless. But when I found her I still had hope for her. She had suffered a severe stroke that caused her to lose her job, and without her job, she was not able to sustain paying rent for her apartment that she shared with a roommate. But her spirits were still optimistic as she talked to me about the international travel she was able to do with her previous job with the airlines, and the musical theater she loved and experienced as we helped her downsize all the stuff she had locked up in a storage unit. She was also staying at a Catholic shelter for women trying to get back on their feet and trying to eat healthier to gain back her strength and health. Things were looking up.
But then I lost contact with her almost a year later because the temporary cell phone she had was no longer in use. Then the holidays were upon us and everyone got really busy, including myself. The January after the holidays, when my family and I were up in the mountains for a snow trip, I received a call from a social worker at a hospital in LA. My aunt had apparently suffered multiple strokes and was admitted to a nursing home and then re-admitted back to the hospital when she suffered another one. There was no emergency contact info for her, until the social worker dug further and eventually found my name and number.
By the time my mom and I rushed to the hospital, she was gone in spirit. I felt it. Her eyes were open but she could not make any sounds let alone speak any words. Her body and mind were gone, but I felt her soul and heart through her eyes, almost telling me that she had given up. She was ready to go to another place and end her suffering. After a month of calls to doctors and surgeons and nurses and nursing homes and finally a hospice worker, my aunt passed away. But the night before I received the call that she passed away, I dreamt that she had called me and reassured me in the energetic, youthful voice that I remember, that she was fine. She was happy and fine. The dream was so surreal yet so real and clear to me at the same time.
So you see, I have deep, personal compassion when it comes to the homeless. It's a real problem. And we have to shift our mindsets to come up with a better solution. Because the one we think we have now… it's not working. The proof is in the numbers. Same applies to the numbers of individuals who experience depression or suicide today.
What are your thoughts on this topic? How do you think we can help the homeless better than what we are doing now? What are the root causes for homelessness, for depression or suicide? I'd love to hear your thoughts.