There Are No Homeless People, Only People Experiencing Homelessness.

By Lydia Montagnese, Board of Directors. 

Our society often lets outward appearances define how we view one another. We let another person’s circumstance define that person. But, circumstances change. The people we see sleeping on the sidewalk in the Tenderloin or under a bush in Golden Gate Park are not homeless people, they are people who are currently homeless. Just like my friend is not an unemployed person, she is a person who is currently unemployed. It's a circumstance. If we start looking at homelessness in this light, maybe attitudes will change.

Homelessness is frequently discussed among residents, officials, and visitors in San Francisco. Because our homeless population is so large, we see it every day, recognize it as an epidemic, and talk about it. Sometimes the conversation about homelessness can be nasty and negative, but if you’re talking to the right people, it can instill you with hope and compassion. Those were the feelings I felt when Meghan first told me about Simply the Basics (SB). I was so excited and honored to join the Board of an organization where everyone involved has something intelligent and uplifting to say about tackling the problems individuals who are homeless face not only in our city, but all across the country. The path to success really starts with our most basic needs, and that’s SB’s main mission: to provide basic needs to homeless individuals and empower them to achieve their goals.

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Throughout my life, I’ve heard many ignorant statements toward those who find themselves living on the street, “why don’t you just get a job?” being one of the most infuriating. Imagine, for a moment, waking up without a toothbrush or a clean pair of socks and underwear? What about a bar of soap to wash your armpits? Ladies, would you be able to walk into a job interview with confidence on the second day of your period without a tampon? Since joining SB, I’ve asked myself these questions over and over again while packing SB tote bags with toothbrushes, tampons, and soap. Many of us can’t even imagine getting through the day without coffee in the morning. Not being able to wash your hair, or clean yourself up during your menstrual cycle, or put socks on to cover your worn, tired, maybe even cut up or infected feet is an instant recipe for failure.

I’ve learned so much from working and talking with the talented and knowledgeable advisory council and board members of SB. Meghan and I have been working on a project together called Givdo, and through casual conversations in those and SB’s meetings, I’ve come to know a lot about the health issues and social injustices that the current homeless population faces on a daily basis. I’ve always equated homelessness with hunger, but that’s just the tip on the iceberg. There are so many ailments and hurdles that most of us never even think of. Have you heard of pigeon mites? I hadn’t either. Pigeon mites are a common health epidemic among those who’ve lost their homes because they live on the street and lie in areas where pigeons roam around and look for food. Also, living outside makes people susceptible to all kinds of harmful bacterial diseases and infections. Bacterial infections of the gut typically come with diarrhea, which, without treatment or proper hygiene, can leave a person sick for a long time and gravely dehydrated. The list goes on, and I’m sure these are problems that you don’t particularly want to hear about, but I’m writing them in detail for a reason, because it is a reality that people --people-- who used to have jobs and homes, and families face after they have somehow lost everything.

What I’m most interested in when it comes to taking on these issues is the way that SB is harnessing technology to put the best information into the right hands. With The Marketplace, SB is harnessing the Internet’s power to connect people to the items they need and allow nonprofits to share their donated resources with other nonprofits that would use them more effectively. The SB Academy is teaching people-in-need basic skills to be able to get a job as a barista or doing data entry and even how to make a healthy meal on a budget. And last but certainly not least, SB’s Hygiene Bank ensures people get the help and basic products they need, whatever it may be.

Lydia Montagnese is the IT Director on the Board of Directors for Simply the Basics. She has been with the organization from day 1, strategizing programs and using her tech skills to improve the functionality and operations of the programs. Lydia is the co-founder of Givdo, a gamefied app that allows users to play for free and win money on behalf of nonprofits, and leads Bonjournal, a vegan lifestyle blog. We are proud and grateful to have Lydia's entrepenuerial insight and generous spirit on the Simply the Basics team, and particularly grateful for her friendship!