I have met and helped many homeless people over the years. I have heard many stories of why they are where they are. It is true, as some point out, that some people are homeless by choice.

However, the reason for that choice may not always be what we think. Learning disorders, phobias and chronic, debilitating health issues, for example, are often behind someone’s inability to maintain a job or residence. For many, the struggle to maintain a “normal" life becomes too much.

Over 10 percent of the U.S. homeless population is veterans, many with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So many things, often out of our control, can trap us in a downward spin cycle. Lack of access to support systems, both familial and community, helps to perpetuate these cycles.

To those who have pulled themselves up and out of difficult or dark places, congratulations.

But not everyone has those proverbial bootstraps. We do not all process and evolve at the same pace. In the meantime, everyone deserves the respect we would hope to receive if we were in the grip of an overwhelming struggle. A hot meal, a safe place to sleep, access to a safety net.

To try to solve the crisis of homelessness, I think we must first decide to come from a place of non-judgment, empathy and understanding. Not always easy, but if we start there, the answers will follow. At the least, we will give our humanity a much-needed workout.

RITA SMITH

Hammond

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