I sat with my eyes closed on Veteran’s Day evening in a room with other like-minded young professionals, students and elected officials. We remained silent as we reflected on the incredible contribution of those men and women who have given their time, passion—and sometimes lives—serving in the military.
In that moment I felt a feeling of gratitude develop in me, but another accompanied it: shame.
I was ashamed at the fact that we so often fail to turn this gratitude into proper care and support for our veterans. The truth is there are veterans whose existence we practically ignore—the homeless ones.
How are we content to see the men and women who fought for our freedom go without a warm bed at night? Hundreds of homeless veterans live in Orange County, and each and every one has a unique story we seldom hear or even think to consider.
We have this exact same complacency toward the story of every homeless person in our county. Unfortunately, we seem to be witnessing an ever-increasing number of these stories. We need to start humanizing the “issue” of homelessness rather than thinking of it as simply one large, bothersome problem to be discussed—or in our case, often ignored.
Homeless individuals who live in our county are not a political “issue.” Nor are they a partisan one. In fact, they are not an “issue” at all, and it is high time that we start seeing them for who they are: people. They are individuals with families, with backgrounds, with unique gifts and abilities. They are the child who ended up on the streets because her dad lost his job in the recession. They are the friend who was kicked out of the house, abandoned by his parents when he came out. They are the sibling who lost the ability to afford rent at the same time as she began facing debilitating mental illness.
All of these stories should burden us just as much as I was burdened as I considered the experiences of our neglected veterans. Yet somehow we are able to see our homeless population as a flaw in our community rather than as individuals in need of assistance. This is wrong, and we need to move our county forward to provide support to our people who are struggling. Everyone should have access to basic resources and the opportunity to thrive. All people deserve safety and the comfort of a roof over their head.
This is exactly what a year-round, multi-service homeless shelter would provide. However, in all of America, our county is the largest region of its size to not have such a facility. Time and time again we have failed in Orange County to put our good intentions into practice and open this much-needed shelter. We can no longer wait. We have now been presented with the perfect opportunity, not just to think about the stories of the homeless, but to actually move to help those individuals who have been for so long ignored.
The OC Board of Supervisors meets this Tuesday, November 17 to make their final decision on the opening of a year-round shelter at 1000 Kraemer Place in Anaheim. This location is ideal, providing peace of mind and support to our entire community. It’s time we unite as we speak in support of those who face homelessness.
The meeting of our Supervisors on Tuesday is critical, and so is our presence there. We need to join together at the meeting, lay down our political weapons and be the change we want to see in our community. I will be there—with the OC Young Democrats by my side—supporting basic dignity and opportunity for all. I ask that you would be there too.
Justin Massey is a recent college graduate and the co-chair of Orange County Young Democrat’s Multicultural Equality Committee. Follow Justin on Twitter: @JustinSMassey