November is “National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month,” and the week before Thanksgiving (November 14-20) has been officially christened “National Hung er and Homelessness Awareness Week.” I find it especially poignant that the National Co alition for the Homeless has chosen to raise awareness regarding some of our nation’s poorest people the week before most American will stuff themselves senseless with turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and whatever else constitutes the typical Thanksgiving Day meal. Don’t get me wrong: I’m in full support of celebratory feasts shared between close family and friends, especially those that foster true gratitude. But may the reality that some 700,000 men, women and children will be categorized as “homeless” while the rest of us are celebrating with our loved ones not only make us all the more thankful if we don’t find ourselves in that situation but also motivate us to begin working with and on behalf of those who might spend this Thanksgiving sleeping in a car.
We all know that the past few years have been very hard for many people financially. National unemployment continues to hover just above 9%, not much lower than it was in November, 2009. This reality is playing itself out in the homeless community. As I work with various organizations across the country I continue to hear similar stories: a growing number of people are homeless for the very first time (mainly because of a loss of job and an inability to pay rent / mortgage), there is an increasing number of homeless children and youth (when a single mother of three gets evicted from her apartment the adult homeless population rises by one while the youth homeless population rises by three), and it is becoming harder for people to transition out of rehabilitation programs because the job market is becoming more competitive. The situation cries out for those of us who are not homeless to respond in a compassionate, sustained, and mindful manner.
Thus calling attention to the plight of the three million people (1% of the United States’ population) who will be homeless in the next calendar year through the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month is a worthwhile thing to do. And yet my hope is that people will do more than just read some statistics and offer some lip service to our Nation’s poorest citizens. A more compassionate, sustained and mindful response might include developing a long term relationship with the people who utilize the services of your local AG RM shelter, advocating for increased alignment between “minimum wage” and “living wage” within your local municipality, encouraging local business owners to consider employing recent rehabilitation program graduates in their workforce, and encouraging your local church to provide overnight housing at least one night per week during the winter months.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving feast this year (I certainly will!). But let me encourage you to pause between the courses to whisper a prayer of thanks to the giver of all good things, followed soon thereafter by a prayerful plea for guidance regarding how you might be used of God to help someone who is on the streets this year celebrate next Thanksgiving in a home of their own.
Mike Yankoski is an Author, Speaker and Photographer. He and his wife Danae live in Vancouver B.C. and are graduate students at Regent College. Mike spends much of his time speaking to audiences across the United States and Canada, presenting a Christ centered response to our world’s great needs. When he is not studying, speaking or writing, he loves spending time outdoors. Mike also serves on the Board of Directors of World Vision US, the Advisory Board of Kilns College, and is the author of Un der the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America (Multnomah, 2010) and My 30 Days Under the Overpass: Not Your Ordinary Devotional (Multnomah, 2006).He and Danae are the executive editors of Zealo us Love: A Practical Guide to Social Justice (Zondervan, 2010).