Last Wednesday afternoon I was coming home from an appointment close to Henderson. As I was driving, I noticed this poor and youngish appearing person with a small sign I did not read. I took notice as to how thin he was. I then took notice with all the large sun blisters he had all over his body. I was crushed to see and experience this. I could not stop or turn around. I could only where my GPS told me to. I really did not know this area. Yet it took time to process what I was seeing. I felt how hot it was that day. Much had cross my mind prior.
I was thinking I had quite a few things to do that day. I don’t carry cash on me. I did not have food or water on me. I felt so helpless. I felt so powerless. I wanted to help. Yet, I was helpless. This is a state in the United States of America. I was processing. People here seem to look at these people as an eyesore. Shame on them. Shame on me. I want to do something. But what? I am also poor. Well, financially speaking. Yet, seeing human beings homeless, hungry, weatherized and blamed for being poor and victimized by our culture makes me sad for the rest. Homeless and hungry is not equivalent to bad, criminal or lazy. It is our culture that allows this belief. No one knows how these people got into their situation. And regardless of why, I feel horrible. I know that could be me or my mentally ill brother if he didn’t have an older social worker for a sister to advocate for him. It could be any one of us.
Yet there are so many here in Nevada. The homeless rate in California and Florida went down since 2014. Yet Nevada homelessness has increased. There is no excuse for that. These are people. They are hungry, and thirsty and homeless. They are not an eyesore. They are people suffering. If many are mentally ill, maybe it is the mental health systems and psychiatrists that are focused on greed and not compassion. Homelessness and hunger deprives development and mental health. The sun and heat is strong here in Las Vegas. Being from the New England, I was unaware how powerful and draining walking on a 100+ degree day can be. My first encounter was when I came to Nevada to find my apartment. I was walking around for about an hour or so. I did not think it was that hot because it was dry. I became short of breath and collapsed. I had a form of heat stroke. I was informed. I was also dehydrated and that was just being in the sun for a few hours. I was able to go to my air conditioned hotel and lie down for a bit. Not everyone has that luxury.
How did we get here? How did we become a culture that lacked so much compassion? There are so many hungry, homeless people in the United States and yet we have billionaires holding on to each penny. I think that is disgusting. I mean our politicians and wealthy persons are exempt from taxes and the same rules poor people are. They are allowed to go by their own rules. We live in a world of greed and power and allow society and our culture to call this successful. I believe sharing and learning is successful. I believe compassion, kindness, and support is successful.
But what do I know? To many, I am just a poor old white woman from New England.
– Virginia Zakhour, MSW