In the summer of 2008, a working-class family of four fell into homelessness for a period of months with only clothes, hope and each other. This family was like any other family. Simply trying to keep their head above water. However, they were experiencing a problem that many would usually turn a blind-eye to in their daily-lives. This family didn’t stand on your local corner, under a bridge, or on a street. Unfortunately, an economic-depression slipped up into their place of comfort-their home. Leaving them income-less and homeless with two teenagers that would learn the meaning of surviving and living on the outskirts of society.
In being stripped of everything that would make a family feel secure, they packed up their lives in their old car and left a life that they had once lived for a new life of instability. In finding themselves isolated from friends and family-members, they held onto their pride and dignity even in the face of despair and pain. In an act of self-preservation, the family of four never spoke of their struggle to survive with others, even between each other. In being left with nothing but each other, they soon turned to begging in hopes of having a place to lay their heads at night. In receiving money, the father, head of his household, soon turned to gambling in hopes of winning money to escape homelessness. Sadly, this act soon became another catalyst to increasing discord between the family-members. In between living and death, the family would live with others and stay in motels- sometimes a different one on a daily-basis. In having to deal with the struggles of surviving and trying to cling onto hope, the world became synonymous to living in a nightmare.
The family soon found themselves traveling down empty roads, lonely highways, and looking out windows to a world that excluded them. They had nothing. No money. No home. And soon, little hope for a future. The two parents would soon become argumentative with each other and doubtful about their tomorrows. Their two teenaged-children would later become clueless about their own survival. Every single day for the family became harder and harder because resources were running out. The charitable acts of others wouldn’t last forever. The hotel and motel-rooms would come to an end and need the next day’s payment. Sadly, this reality would force the family to pack up the little they had and to continue to some unknown place with unfamiliar faces. The world never seemed so cold and empty until then.
The smell of a homemade meal never lingered through their noses over those months. The warm feeling of being able to lie upon their own beds was never a reality for them over those months. The happy feeling of inviting over family and friends was never a reality for them over those months. The sound of children running up and down the street was never a reality for them for those months. The familiar smile from the postman was never a reality for them for those months. Over those months, the family of four found themselves living a life that was anything but the reality they once knew. Those months became their new reality. The family had a new reality that forced them to live in their old car at times, to change motel-rooms on a daily basis, to walk to local stores if the car ever had problems, to smile and to look presentable to those around them.
Unfortunately, the upcoming year for school would be starting for the two teenaged-children. They would be faced to lie about their summer and the wonderful vacation they didn’t really have. They would be forced to say no to friends about invitations and gatherings. The school would soon question their actual home-address once the mail was returned back to its sender. Every new day would seem like a lie and the smiles they would situate on their faces would only make the pain of homelessness and worthlessness penetrate even deeper in their hearts. The one thing that their friends and teachers didn’t know was the harsh reality that they would never know where they would sleep or do their homework after coming from school once the bell sounded for the end of the school day. An unspoken pain and hurt suddenly had set in for the two teenagers because they knew that their world was not the same as their classmates. They were homeless and without an address. And they were invisible.
As days, weeks, and months passed, the family of four soon got assistance in moving into their own home. They would soon find themselves situated in their own place across from the school. The mother found herself with a full-time job and decent income to provide and maintain. The father would soon find himself working odd-jobs to supplement his wife’s income. However, the pain they were feeling didn’t leave overnight. It didn’t even leave months later for they all could remember the different motel-rooms and roads they had once traveled to just find a place to lay their heads at night. As time went by, they found themselves reverting back to the lifestyle they had knew once before. They were reclining upon their couches, laying upon their own beds, and resting in their own home at night. The return of family-members coming over for visits would become a regular habit with occasional visits from their children’s friends. The world became better, but not perfect for they knew there were others like themselves that were experiencing homelessness on a daily-basis in conditions less-viable for survival. In undergoing their journey of survival, they were happy to know there were people willing to give them charity for a hotel or motel-room. There were people willing to give groceries when there wasn’t any for them to eat. They were most grateful for the charity that people gave to them for they were struggling without it.
In reading this story, I hope everyone will take time to think about charity and how it can save a person or even a family. As a Muslim, I believe the world is the responsibility of each and every one of us. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves if there are people who are without their bare necessities in life. This family isn’t any different from the next family. They just fell upon some hard times and that’s understandable, especially in the world that we live in. So, remember the next person you may see on the corner, under the bridge, or walking next to you in a store. That person could be one of the individuals in the story I told. We can’t pinpoint the poor and needy just by looks. We can’t pinpoint the poor and needy just by their lack of material-items. The poor and the needy comes in all forms and sometimes it will surprise you the most to know that those who are struggling are those just trying to save face by simply wearing a smile. And this story isn’t meant to make you feel guilty for this family’s homelessness, but it is a story of awareness and realism. Our world isn’t always black and white. It isn’t always as transparent as we may think. The world that we live in is quite confusing at times and even chaotic. So, just remember that the world is a place of smiles when many are hiding their frowns. Furthermore, remember that sadaqa or charity is due upon every one of us, so don’t withhold whatever you may have for it was Allah that gave you such blessings. May Allah give us strength and a helping hand for those that need it the most. Ameen.