New statistics were released indicating that over 50,000 people access New York City shelters each night. About 50% of those people are children.
This is an atrocity. America is a wealthy, vibrant nation. There is no reason or excuse for these high numbers of homeless individuals and families. Chronic homelessness is preventable. With affordable housing and additional social services, no one has to be homeless long term.
Below is a repost of an article Rich and I wrote close to 3 years ago. The pop culture reference may be very outdated, but the message is the same ~ that anyone can become homeless. And with the rising number of homeless individuals, it is clear that we are all at risk. We must all work together, with compassion and hope, to work to eliminate homelessness.
“Never look down on someone unless you are helping him up.” ~ Jesse Jackson
Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, you’ve no doubt heard about “The Decision.” NBA superstar LeBron James, now officially ego-in-chief, had a one-hour primetime special to announce his intention to join the Miami Heat. (Being Knicks fans, we think “the Decision” sucks.) LeBron will be offered a nine-figure contract, making him one of the highest paid professional athletes in history. His throne as the King of the NBA will soon be in South Beach.
Juxtapose his situation with that of “Sugar Ray” Williams, a 10-year veteran of the NBA. He is currently homeless and living in the back of his broken-down 1992 Buick. Sugar Ray played in the late 70′s to mid 80′s. Although the salaries were not as astronomically high as they are now, he had fame, fortune and seemingly endless resources available to him. Still, he’s homeless.
Surprisingly, he’s not the first former professional athlete to face the challenge of homelessness. Former NBA player David Vaughn now sleeps in a storage shed, former boxing champion Rocky Lockridge now lives on the streets of Camden, New Jersey, former NBA player Joe Pace lives in a homeless shelter in Seattle, and former NFL player Donnie Green resides in a Maryland shelter. These stories are clear examples of how even the most seemingly financially secure person can become homeless.
America seems to have adopted a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality when it comes to our pop culture icons. Sugar Ray was among the world’s elite athletes during his run in the NBA. Yet once he stopped playing the game he was cast aside and forgotten. As he told the Boston Globe, “[w]hen I played the game, they always talked about loyalty to the team. Well, where’s the loyalty and compassion for ex-players who are hurting? We opened the door for these guys whose salaries are through the roof.”
He’s right. At the exact same moment that Sugar Ray languishes in his car, free agents within the NBA are bartering for $100 million deals. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and others take their pick of any team that will provide the highest salaries and greatest opportunities. Will these players one day face the turmoil of some of their predecessors? Only time will answer that question. What is clear now is that these young and vibrant athletes are utterly glorified and practically having money thrown at them to play a game. Once the game stops for them, the glory may stop as well, just as it did for Sugar Ray.
We realize that some of the professional athletes who have become homeless, and some of those who have not, have made less than ideal choices throughout their careers and lives. Elite athletes and other pop culture heroes are not immune to issues of domestic violence, addiction, gambling and other challenges. Even those of us who are seemingly financially stable can be in danger of becoming homeless. It’s not just about the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are dangerously close to homelessness due to unemployment and other financial challenges.
Perhaps homelessness is not solely an issue of finances after all. Perhaps the issue truly is deeper and speaks of the necessity of a strong support system, access to adequate and effective resources, intervention during crisis situations, and consistent and supportive treatment of underlying issues. Advocates have long been arguing that these are the real issues at play. Sugar Ray puts a face to this argument. Let’s hope everyone is watching in HD.
Post originally published on Change.org, July 2010