More than 4 million people will become homeless this year, said Washington native Steve Thomas, who was once homeless himself.
“In a country like ours, there shouldn’t be any homelessness,” said Thomas, 51, adding that many of those people could be single women with children.
While homelessness is a large problem in society, progress toward fixing it can be slow because of the negative attitudes some have of the homeless, said Thomas, who is also a speaker with the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau.
Two speakers from the Washington-based bureau visited the University of Maryland on Tuesday night to give about 100 students in Stamp Student Union a better understanding of homelessness and create more positive attitudes toward those who are homeless.
People who are currently or have been homeless make up the bureau, and they give presentations to educate the public about the concept of homelessness and what should be done to put an end to it.
“There is only one type of person that is immune to homelessness, and that is a perfect person,” Thomas said. “How many of you are perfect?”
Voices of Social Change, a program that brings local and national leaders to this university to discuss social issues, brought the bureau to help foster a discussion about homelessness and inspire change, Nathalia Cibotti, a Voices of Social Change intern, wrote in an email.
Karen Ennis, a Washington native who ended up homeless with a child and pregnant, explained the difficulty in finding resources for her family. She had to find ways to care for her child, overcome issues with substance abuse and get an education.
Ennis now has a degree from Howard University in interior design, she said at the event.
“Don’t be so proud that you don’t ask for help,” Ennis said. “Know yourself. Know what you can accomplish.”
Reasons for the amount of homeless in the U.S. include domestic abuse, a lack of affordable housing, mental illness, a lack of affordable health care and low-paying jobs, Thomas said. Many people blame drug and alcohol abuse, but that’s not always the case, he added.
Thomas said he suffered from an abusive mother who drove him to homelessness. Rather than stay in a shelter, Thomas said he decided to live on a bench for 18 months instead.
Both Ennis and Thomas explained the loneliness that comes along with a lack of housing.
“When you’re out here and you see someone homeless, say hello, smile, nod,” Ennis said. “We feel invisible already. … Just acknowledge — that goes a long way.”
There could be distance between those who have housing and those who do not, Cibotti said.
“To start to break down this distancing, [the Bureau] sets out to put a human face on homelessness in order to create a better understanding of the difficult and complex problem,” she wrote.
Tommy Klose, a sophomore biology major, said he thought the event would be a good experience for him.
“I saw the opportunity to get insight from people who have experienced homelessness,” he said.
There are several resources for those who are homeless, Thomas said. The acronym “CARE,” which Thomas created, explains how college students can help the cause: Contribute to agencies advocating for the homeless; advocate to your parents, friends and legislators; reach out to an individual who needs help; and educate yourselves and others about what you learned today, he said.
Leisha Winley, a senior communication major, said she got more out of the event than she expected.
“I realized the need to acknowledge the homeless,” Winley said. “It’s not just giving money and volunteering.”