adjective home·less \-ləs\
: having no place to live
:  having no home or permanent place of residence — home·less·ness noun

Pause here- note that. Homeless is an adjective not a noun- yet we use it as a noun. To help the homeless- I am writing to discuss the homeless. If dogs were instead the topic- I wouldn’t say, I am here today to discuss the hairy. One should rather put the noun back to those having no place to live. It’s a basic step towards dignity. Instead of saying the homeless- refer to them as people first. People experiencing homelessness. Noun or adjective? What would that matter? I am a registered nurse not an English teacher. What would a pageant queen know about homelessness? What do you? What is the image that you see when you hear the word homelessness? What adjectives enter your thoughts and images?  Drunk? Beggar? Dirty? Veteran? Mentally ill? Drugs? Tattered? Lazy? Bum? Alcoholic? Hairy?

I too had stereotypes, and images of those words to describe homelessness. For me, homelessness entered into my world a few years ago. When my sister for almost ten years was the victim of domestic abuse. On a cold night in January, she received her last punch and bravely escaped to a crisis shelter. She and her children found themselves, homeless. Or my cousin, she went to work one morning without a care in the world. Only to come home eight hours later to learn that her house had electrical problems, resulting in her home being burned to the ground. She and her husband, and their four children found themselves, homeless. What about all of the young girls and women that are victims of human trafficking?  How about natural disasters? Tornados? What about the influx of people in western North Dakota that have jobs, some paying more than six figures, yet still experiencing homelessness due to a shortage in available housing. Or the growing number of college aged students that experience rising costs of tuition and unable to afford on campus housing? What about people that have lost their jobs from downsizing or an advancement in technology? Or the number of people that are experiencing war in their home country and become refugees, landing in the land of the free with no resources, no social security number to apply for a job and not even being able to speak our language?  What about the children involved in any of these instances? It is these images that became not just images, but faces and real people to me. None of them choosing homelessness as a way of life. None of them set it as their goal. In fact the truth is, mine is the face of homelessness. As a basic step towards humanity, and dignity, refer to them as PEOPLE first. People that are experiencing homeliness. People that are homeless.

Together we are providing comfort, warmth, dignity and hope those experiencing homelessness, one pair of socks at a time.

Erin Bertel

Mrs. North Dakota International 2015

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