It's easy to ignore the homeless when we picture the man on the exit of the turnpike with the cardboard sign. We justify it with thoughts of "he should just get a job, there are plenty of jobs out there. He's just going to use the money for drugs or alcohol". However, the problem is much harder to ignore if we thought about the waitress in your favorite breakfast café, the theme park worker, the teacher, or even your child's friend.
The waitress is working two jobs and still can't make ends meet. She left her alcoholic husband who beat the crap out of her and the kids, but we're upset because she brought us toast when we clearly asked for an English Muffin. And really Sweet N Low, I asked for Equal. Everyone knows Sweet N Low has saccharine. I just can't have it. The minimum wage for servers in Florida is $5.54 per hour. We sat in her booth for an hour, asked for 3 coffee refills and tipped her $2.00. I've actually been to Chamber of Commerce Networking meetings where people bring their own coffee and tip nothing.
Many of the Disney Cast members were recruited down to Florida on the Disney College Program. They fell in love with the magic of Disney and left the security of home for the "Happiest Place on Earth". They were lured by the hopes of rising up the corporate ladder and free theme park tickets. Their whole identity is now "my son who works for Disney". His friends and family come down once per month to play in the parks. Even though he's not on vacation, he feels obligated to get them in the parks and play with them. Unfortunately, at $15 per hour, he can't afford rent, his car lease, utilities, food and monthly trips to the parks (even with free admission). His credit card bills are mounting and now he has to make a choice between his rent or his car. He did just receive free movie tickets for a job well done.
The average teacher in Florida makes $49,102. Florida ranks the third lowest among the 50 states. Your child's teacher gets up early to watch our kids and often stays late to tutor. Then she has to go home and grade papers or prepare for the next days lessons. We fail to even think for a second that Ms. Jones has her own complex story. We're just upset because she still hasn't entered the grades from Wednesday's test. "What's wrong with her! I need to know if Billy's grade went from a 'B' to an 'A' so I can post on Facebook how proud I am of him and get 27 Likes and 8 Great Job Billy comments". Well Ms. Jones recently lost her husband in a car crash. Unfortunately, they had no life insurance and they were living in a house in Winter Garden that they could barely afford on two incomes, let alone one. They have two kids and now Ms. Jones has to figure out where they are going to live. Her monthly expenses are just too high and did I mention that she is often forced to buy her own school supplies.
Most of us don't even want to imagine that there are homeless kids at our schools. But there are, it may even be one of your kids friends. Bobby is the smelly kid at school. Nobody wants to sit with him since...he smells. He is bullied and the kids make fun of him because...he smells. Your son comes home and tells you about Bobby and your response is "his parents should make him take a shower". Unfortunately, Bobby is living in a car with his mother who is working two jobs. Bobby stays in school all day because that's his only safe place. He relies on school to get his meals.
One bedroom apartments in Winter Garden are averaging $1500 per month. When you add in a car payment, gas, utilities, and food, total monthly expenses are around $2,750. At $15 per hour after tax take home pay is $2144. The working poor is already running a deficit of $600 per month. This is before adding on any form of entertainment. The credit card companies know this which is why they charge such high interest rates. Matthew's Hope has a Moving Forward Program which provides the working poor career support, money management guidance, and meetings with Financial Planners.
The Moving Forward Program starts with helping the homeless guests meet their basic needs with food, clothing, and hygiene and ends with them matching $1000 that their guest has put into savings so they can achieve independent living. I have two "asks" in writing this article. My first is for all of us to do a better job of demonstrating compassion for the working poor. Please understand that there are people walking among us everyday who are dealing with issues. The homeless population does not just consist of men and women on the side of the street with a cardboard sign, but men, women, and children who are working everyday to serve us. My second ask is that you support Matthew's Hope and their Moving Forward Program. For more information and to make a donation, please visit www.matthewshopeministries.org/moving-forward-program.