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The storm is coming

How many families are one or two paychecks away from being homeless? How many families have no savings or no one to turn to in case of emergency? How many families want to help loved ones but is unable to, because they too are facing economic hardships?

These are tough questions that most folks would rather not contemplate. A majority of Americans have a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, the utilities are on, and there is enough food for three meals per day. Most of those folks have never been homeless or know of anyone that has been. Looking from this vantage point makes the reality of homelessness easier to swallow.

Having been homeless as a young man I can relate to the first story that was aired tonight on 60 minutes. The story is about the homeless population in one county in Florida. The 60 minutes reporters followed the lives of three specific families who were living in their vehicles. All of these families had at least one parent present and multiple children. Having lived through the struggles of being a young man on my own, and living on the streets of Houston Texas, I now realize how much easier that was compared to having a family right there with you.

How does one become homeless? In my case, I was far away from home and alienated from my adoptive parents.   First I lost my job and due to a lack of income I was no longer able to pay rent or make a car payment. I will never forget my first three nights living under a bridge in Houston Texas. I had three large plastic garbage bags full of belongings.

I selected this particular bridge because it was close to a mall that I had just worked at as a security officer. I was able to go there and use the restrooms, clean up and get whatever food I could. As a single person I was able to survive my experience. I guess you could say that I had hit rock bottom. Looking back at my life I can honestly say that it was good that I did not have a wife and children who would have been looking to me for help, guidance and protection.

As I watched the story about the parents and their children living out of their vehicles in Florida I have great empathy for them. Thanks to the story that was aired several organizations and people from all over, were able to donate money, food and clothing for these families. Over four million dollars were raised in order to help over 400 school-aged children and their parents.

If you watched the story on 60 minutes I can only imagine the hopelessness that you felt, as you watched the parents talk about their daily struggles to keep their families together. They spoke of the struggle to find food and a safe place to park their vehicles at night. One dad spent the nights watching over his family as he sat on a cooler outside of the vehicle.

One particular family consisted of a dad who was a construction worker who was unemployed and his 15 yr. old daughter and 13-year-old son. The father was camera shy, but I learned that the family lost their mother due to illness, just before the father lost his job. They showed a utility truck the father spent his last 1000.00 on because they could no longer stay in their home, and were forced to move out and live in the utility vehicle. It was amazing to me, how independent and strong these two teenagers were. Not once during the interviews did I hear these kids being bitter, nor were they angry with their lot in life. They said that they were viewing this time in their lives as an adventure.

The 13-year-old girl said that you have to do what you have to do to survive. These teenagers kept their chins up, did what they had to do, and attended public school during the day. They used filling stations to get cleaned up in the mornings, and in the afternoons their dad took them to the public libraries to study and get on the Internet.

In the 1980’s when I was homeless myself, I did not have access to this thing we call the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every day we are bombarded with images of suffering here in America, and all around the world. We see so much of it that we have become disconnected and insensitive to the plight of others. I am not saying that we do not care. Absolutely, we care and if we are able, we would like to do something, anything. The only problem is, we can only do so much. We can only care so much. The numbers of homeless families are staggering.

One of the ways that we deal with our inability to help is by saying that those people live in whatever state, city or country they are in, but we are here in the low country. How in the world can we hope to make a difference? What about the needs in our own back yard? Yes, I am talking about the low country. Just last year I found myself in a conversation with one school official at West Ashley High School. During that conversation I learned that there are kids in West Ashley High that do not know where their next meal will come from when they are out for summer vacation. When I learned this, it brought the reality of this recession much closer to home.

Yes, we are living in a recession. As I understand it, we are all looking at the possibility of a global recession. Things are not looking so good in Europe these days and that economy is ultimately going to affect our economy. Our government has us in debt to the tune of 14 Trillion dollars. I heard that China owns almost 50% of that debt. I am wondering if our view of the current recession is being clouded because of our ability to survive, for now.

I am not sure about you but when I see my fellow Americans facing these kinds of hardships, it forces me to take a hard look at how my family is doing today. It also forces me to think about how my family will be able to survive if this recession goes global. Will we be able to survive something worse than what is going on now? If my head is in the sand, which it is not, I need to pull it out and do whatever I can to get prepared.

Among the feelings of despair and hopelessness I believe that there is hope for us. I believe that our nation draws a lot of strength from our diversity. No matter what our differences are, when the chips are down, I believe that we will be able to put them aside, and do whatever it takes to survive. The important thing to realize is that we are in the eye of the storm. I predict that things are going to get much worse before they get better. When the storm does hit, we need to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to survive.

Are you ready?

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