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Exactly Why the Homeless Are Always Apologizing

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I’m not homeless, but every now and then I take to the streets in some far-flung part of the United States and live in a fashion similar to the one lived by many people experiencing homelessness.  

Like many folks without a home, sometimes I travel alone, but I’m often with others.  Two weeks ago I shoved off on my latest trip with my dear friend, Diane Nilan.   Nilan’s an advocate for homeless kids and the executive director of Hear Us, a charity she started 9 years ago hoping to shed light on our nation’s greatest shame. 

I love Diane Nilan.  She’s selfless and that’s an amazing thing to watch.  She’s held body and soul together – living on the road in an RV all these years – for the same reasons the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask over your own face before you attempt to help somebody else. 

Nilan and I were in Birmingham, Alabama one time.  We were speaking with some folks who hoped to help 19 to 25 year olds find a safe place to stay, get some mentoring, education, food, healthcare and eventually self-sufficiency.  A young man spoke of being in a dank and nasty homeless shelter with a bunch of wizened tough guys.  His story was frightening and heartbreaking.  Nilan got up after this kid spoke and choked out these words, “We must be a very wealthy nation to throw away our children.” 

Those words stick with me all the time.  I do think it’s a testimony to our nation’s excessiveness that we spend a fortune on defense and then throw away the one commodity that we all agree would be worth the fight.

So when I get to travel with Nilan, I’m stoked.  Last week – as we began our journey northward – she brought me to meet the amazing folks at the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH).  Now these guys and gals have been my heroes for a very long time.  Pretty much since I first heard about them, I’ve used their data to explain the size and scope of our nation’s greatest domestic challenges. 

On my way out their door, I promised ICPH a blog post.  The blog post was going to be very similar to this one, but without the apology.  I never dreamed I’d need to apologize.  But as Nilan and I got further on our journey – as my mom would say – I got turned around.  I’m doubled up in Nilan’s motor home and while she kindly tries to make room for me, I don’t really have any place to keep my things.  My dirty laundry piles up, my toothbrush falls out of my bag and onto the floor just about every time I try to stow my things away, and I often forget to take my medicine. 

We spent our first few nights sleeping in a Wal*Mart parking lot.  It was cold and dark and we didn’t have access to a WiFi signal so at night we’d just go to sleep rather than stay awake and shiver.  From there we moved onto the parking lot in a convent, a friend’s driveway, and a university campus, and managed to get to all our speaking engagements, but we never did write very much. 

Finally, I remembered the blog post.  I asked Diane when it was due and she said that she couldn’t remember and we should write to Linda Bazerjain and ask.  That’s when I learned that my post was 4 days late.