I know the despair that the holidays can bring


This holiday season, once again we have on our minds those who find themselves in less-fortunate circumstances. Many are alone. Some are homeless. There are those of our loved ones who are incarcerated.

The facts bear this out: According to prisonpolicy.org as of 2018, there were 2.3 million people in U.S. jails. Just over half a million people in this country are experiencing some form of homelessness points out endhomelessness.org. And health giant Cigna, using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, reports that 46-percent of survey participants noted feelings of solitude.

I have been one of these statistics. I’ve experienced loneliness. I’ve been homeless. I’ve spent winter holidays in jail.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year are supposed to be times of sharing, caring, and looking forward to a prosperous future. Together families prepare meals, engage in lively conversation, decorate the holiday tree, share traditions, and make merry as they anticipate what the future may hold. But for many, the primary concern is having a warm place to sleep, wondering where that next meal may come from, and feeling alone to the point of despair.

Many suffer from disabilities. They are the elderly, the very young. Some even have advanced degrees. They are veterans who bravely served our country. I’ve seen and spoken to people who, although proud of prior accomplishments, lament the current state they are in.

I’m not here to debate why they are in such circumstances. There are those who may say, ‘Well, they put themselves in their situation, why should I feel sorry for them?’ Perhaps. Maybe not. But that’s not the point. The goal is for us to stop and take pause of their existence. Let’s validate instead of judge. They are human too. At one time in their lives, they may have found themselves in the grateful and lucrative circumstances some of us find ourselves in. Chances are you might even find yourself nearing a similar and harrowing circumstance. Often, we hear of stories where a family is one paycheck from living on the streets. Both the reality and the potential reality should be hard to ignore. We all probably know someone who is experiencing these situations.

More than acknowledging their existence, we can take it further. Instead of giving cash to a homeless person, perhaps we may buy something for them to eat. Even if it’s a dollar burger, someone who is truly hungry will appreciate it. We can give of our time to volunteer at one of the many places offering social services to the less fortunate. Besides giving the basics of food, clothing and shelter, we can take the moment to sit and listen to them. We can share stories. We can even learn from those who have much wisdom to offer. Giving doesn’t have to take a bite out of our wallet. Oftentimes, at a basic human level that’s all people need: just to know they’re not alone. They need encouragement. They need to know that someone truly cares, whether it be in person or in the form of an email or snail mail letter!

I remember being there, when I was homeless, locked up, and lonely. And there were days that just a handshake, hug, or smile of encouragement saved me from feelings of desperation.  As we prepare for the holiday meal, shop for gifts, or celebrate a new season – indeed any time of the year– let’s ask ourselves what we can do to help lift the less fortunate out of the despair they may be in.

Submitted by R.A. Contreras, a Highland resident and on Twitter @commgrad71.