I was starting to get close to One World Trade Center, days before the anniversary of 9/11.

I turned to head to catch a train home when I stumbled upon Charlie, an almost 78-year-old African American. His makeshift bed made from cardboard, newspapers, and rags, were off to his right, as he sat in a chair holding a sign begging for work.

See, when the first plane hit the Twin Towers, Charlie was walking to work. No, not at the World Trade Center, but at a store next to it, where he was a maintenance worker. He had just celebrated with 18th wedding anniversary and was feeling good because, at 61, he just passed his GED, and could apply for a promotion.

In a split second, gone was the job and the store. He was now unemployed and suffering from severe PTSD. He hasn’t been able to keep a job since. His wife left him for almost a decade. And, the shelters, he said, are not safe for a man of his age, or someone suffering from PTSD.

So, his home is where ever can find a spot, but always near the place that once gave him so much, only to take it all way as he entered his golden years. He says some days he says he fully expects to wake up and find out this was a bad dream.

These stories are not as unusual as you may think. Today our streets and shelters are home to people who are victims of unavoidable life events, like hurricane Sandy, or some medical crisis.

I remember in the aftermath of 9/11, offering my sofa to several friends.

After hurricanes Maria and Harvey last year saw some 70,000 people displaced.

And by midnight tonight, more than 987 Puerto Ricans will be homeless when FEMA kicks them out of the temporary housing they were placed in after Maria. A federal judge ruled last week that FEMA had the right to do this.

 

But while there are only a few saviors out there, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who today pledged $2 BILLION to help the homeless and preschoolers, enough is not being done.

As the New York Times noted recently, Americans want to believe that jobs are the solution to poverty. But they’re not.

U.S. unemployment is down, and jobs are going unfilled. But for people without much education, the real question is: Do those jobs pay enough to live on? No. They don’t.

We constantly hear people say that the homeless are just lazy and need to get a job. That’s a terribly untrue statement, as well as incredibly stigmatizing and stereotyping.

In fact, roughly 25%- 30% of people who are homeless are employed.

Earlier this year, a study found that almost three-quarters of the 5,000 Disney employees who were interviewed, said they do not earn enough money to cover basic expenses every month. And more than one in 10 reported having experienced homelessness in the past two years.

One employee, Yeweinishet Mesfin, spent seven of the 10 years she worked at Disneyland living in her car, never telling anyone out of shame. Her family and friends only discovered this when the 61-year-old woman was found dead in her “home.”

Yeweinishet Mesfin

It’s these realities that pushed Jayson Conner and I to launch our Together Helping Others, Inc, and Backpacks For The Street nonprofits.

It’s beyond mind boggling to me the level of disgust and contempt people have towards the homeless. We’ve seen people just walk by someone who seems hurt, or dissolved, and completely look through them, and around, and never quite seeing them.

I’ve discovered it’s a mixture of both apathy and complete detachment from people they view as less than or unworthy.

This displaced indignation and unjustified self-righteousness are appalling, if not just plain inexcusable. It leaves many of our homeless feeling invisible, if not hated by those who can’t even muster a smile or kind word.

Nothing says marginalized more than being ignored and made to feel invisible.

 

People should not have to live like this. But, together we can make a difference and give hope, and help, to those who need it most.

Come join the moment and get involved, together we can help others.

We can do better. We must.

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