“Can I get one of those bags, brother?”
I turned around, and there was a homeless person approaching me in the alley behind the Salvation Army kitchen in Dallas…
Before we continue the story, a primer – what causes homelessness, what are the stats nationally, what is being done to help them, and more importantly, how can we help.
The National Coalition of Homelessness details several reasons for homelessness – ranging from a lack of affordable housing to domestic violence to mental illness and addiction. The National Alliance to End Homelessness stated in a recent report that at any given night, there are over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness! However the same report also mentioned that “36 states reported decreases in overall homelessness since 2007, while 14 states and Washington D.C. reported increases”, which can be attributed to the efforts by various organizations to help the needy.
Closer to home, we keep reading about the efforts by the various local city governments to provide services to the homeless, as well as remove homeless encampments. Cindy Crain, CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance says in an op-ed: “We know that the homeless on the streets of America are aging, ill and experiencing escalating trauma, victimization and depravation. And many will die. Nearly 20 years of research has pointed to the solution: Rapidly housing the most vulnerable homeless in permanent supportive housing ends homelessness”.
Crain also rightly suggests that in the end, we all pay for the homeless – including through our taxes towards police, code compliance or Medicaid. And this is not just limited to Dallas – the problem is worldwide. So what can we do to help with this global phenomenon?
An article in the Dallas Observer recently put it very nicely: “And not to beat a dead horse, but the evidence is before us that there are things we can do. Those people in those camps look bad because they have bad lives. The cure for bad life better life. No, you’re right, we can’t force a better life on somebody who is determined to make bad decisions. But generally speaking, the community of our souls will be better served by patience, compassion and diligent effort than by losing our tempers, stamping our feet and insisting that the cops make it go away”.
Which brings us back to the alley behind Salvation Army…
Selfless service or Seva is one of the three pillars of Sikhism. We as Sikhs see it every Sunday in our Gurudwaras (Sikh temples), where you see almost everyone – from children to seniors – engaged in cooking, cleaning and doing all sorts of activities without any thoughts for the reward. In addition, there are Sikh organizations like Khalsa Aid and United Sikhs which are more focused on the Seva around humanitarian aid and global disaster relief.
Even though there had been other seva initiatives, to infuse the children with the seva spirit, a Sack Lunch project was started by the Sikh Gurudwara in Euless, TX in October 2016 – with very humble goals. Every other week, the kids would get together to make wholesome meals: PBJ sandwiches, a snack, a fruit and a drink – and deliver it to the organizations serving the homeless – Union Gospel Mission in Tarrant county, and the Salvation Army in Dallas. A simple sticker on the lunch bags gave a some information about Sikhs – which helped increase awareness about Sikhs (Sikhs have been targets of hate crimes because of their appearance. In August 2012, a gunman opened fire inside the Sikh Gurudwara in Oak Creek, WI, leading to 7 deaths)
Eighteen months later, the program has grown to include of several local Gurudwaras, and roughly 15,000 meals have been served – all on a volunteer basis.
The Sack Lunch Project may be a drop in the bucket, but with the current climate of fear and mistrust in the country, every compassionate child we raise and every person we make aware goes towards making this world a better place. In addition, helping those organizations who are working towards reducing homelessness should be supported – as Crain said, we can pay now or more later…