All of us benefit when we help the homeless

Published September 20 2012

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, until it is secured for all of us” said Jane Addams, an American author, sociologist and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

What a profound and accurate statement.

The economy is bad. No job. No income. No home. No hope. No help. People living in the woods and panhandling on street corners — in the richest country in the world. Unimaginable and shameful.

Who is at fault? Who is to be blamed? Some will answer the “greedy rich.” Some others will blame the “lazy poor.” Some will accuse “irresponsible government.”

There are many innocent victims like children and the disabled. What kind of circumstances contribute to the lack of simple self-respect that leads to begging on the streets?

They are mentally ill, some will claim. Wouldn’t everybody in that situation become mentally ill even if they were perfectly sane before?

They are self-destructive and they use the money for alcohol and drugs. They don’t care for themselves or their children, some will argue. Isn’t that true with some of the rich? Don’t they need to be helped?

Some of them refuse shelters. They don’t have a dime, but they want freedom, some will complain. Isn’t freedom a basic instinct for all the living?

They don’t make any effort to improve their situation. They are ill, they spread disease and they are a burden to society, some will contend. But what makes them that way? Whose responsibility is it to give them hope? Is one Mother Theresa enough for the entire world?

Statistics from 2009 reveal that over 640,000 men, women and children are without housing on any single night in our country. More than 1.5 million children are homeless annually in the United States — one in every 50 American children. About 16 million children regularly go to school with empty stomachs. These children represent the future of our country.

Florida has the third largest population of homeless in the nation. Just in Pasco County, as many as 4,502 people were homeless on any given day in 2011. More than 56,000 children of school age were identified by the public school districts in Florida as being homeless during the 2010-2011 school year, including 2,230 in Pasco County and 497 in Hernando, according to the Council on Homelessness’ 2012 Florida Report.

Some of these homeless and hopeless convert to criminals. They have good incentive to become so — free boarding, good meals and all other so-called luxuries. What do they have to lose? It beats living on the street.

The citizens are willing to spend about $20,000 per year to support each incarcerated convict, but we don’t jump to help them before they get into trouble and hurt others. After serving their time, most of them are simply released back into the streets, to enter the revolving door.

People give hundreds of millions of dollars as political contributions so that the candidates can spread lies about each other. Imagine what that money could do for the hungry and homeless.

The Institute of Medicine estimated that up to a third of health care spending in this country, $750 billion, was wasteful. Won’t a fraction of that money be enough for decent indigent care?

There are a lot of strategic plans (federal, state and local) on the books to prevent homelessness and to help the poor and hungry. It is the help from neighbors that counts the most.

There is no doubt that the majority of us try to help the needy. Do we do enough? Living rich is more important than dying rich. One doesn’t need to be wealthy to live rich through helping others. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.

Indeed. It is in everyone’s interest to do so.

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times:

Rao Musunuru, M.D. Mini Bio

Dr. Rao Musunuru, who has called Pasco County his home since 1981, was instrumental in transforming a 50-bed rural hospital into a 290-bed Heart Institute at Bayonet Point/Hudson Regional Medical Center. He has received numerous awards and continually serves the community at large through education and philanthropy.