“They are us.”
The thought reverberated as we walked past the couple who looked so much like my husband and I. They sat on the curb, like so many other people experiencing homelessness I saw in Los Angeles. Well, not exactly — most of the people sat with their backs against the wall, usually alone. This couple was different; from how they were holding hands, to the emotions on their pained faces, to even the way they sat forward on the curb — something told me they hadn’t been on the street for very long.
What had brought them to sitting on streets wealthier people wouldn’t let their dogs walk on without booties? How could people so similar to myself end up homeless?
On any given night 1,055 Rhode Islanders experience homelessness. Statistically, the top two causes of homelessness are a lack of affordable housing and unemployment. Though I’m privileged, I’ve still had periods of unemployment. I’ve never been able to afford a place on my own despite being an engineer. I always had roommates; now I share housing costs with my husband. How far was I from being one-half of that couple? How far are any of us, really?
Criminalizing what people must do to survive, such as anti-panhandling laws, doesn’t end homelessness but makes our neighbors experiencing homelessness invisible. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a shameful basis for policy. Our elected officials can no longer look away: they must face this issue head-on.