EATON — Homelessness Awareness advocate Maurice Young visited Eaton High School on Friday, Nov. 17, to close out Homeless Awareness Week in Preble County. He spoke honestly and thoughtfully to the young teens about what it means to be homeless and how they can help.
Young is a leading activist to eliminate the criminalization of homelessness. He advocates for the fair and equal treatment for those who call the streets their home. Young finds himself collaborating with many groups and cities to spread awareness and action throughout the world.
“Living on the streets was a decision I made eight years ago, because I felt like we were doing a lot of the homeless, but the work wasn’t very effective,” he said. “We were doing all this work, but the homeless issue was not decreasing. I had an idea to come into the homeless system and see the problem from the inside. It is funny, as I stand here before you, I feel like an antique when it comes to your generation.
“You have so many resources that we didn’t have when I was your age. The perfect example is the internet. I thought about the advantages that you guys have. From ages 12-17, you guys are more advanced than we ever were. Your 12-17 would relate to my 21-25, because I had to go out into life to experience things, but you just have to Google it.
“I got to thinking about that. If you guys are so advanced, wouldn’t it be cool to start the conversation about how to eradicate homelessness earlier? When you get to my age, you guys can handle it a lot better than we have tried it today.”
He explained, initially, he did not start out passionate about homeless awareness, but instead the experiment began when he was at a low point in his life. He was getting divorced for the third time and wanted to escape his friends and family, in order to better understand why his latest relationship had failed.
He found himself in the mission in order to get off the radar. He wanted to reflect and figure out how to move forward.
While he was there, he began to see people who had fallen through the cracks. People who should be receiving help, but due to no fault of their own, were not getting any aid.
“Instead of complaining about it, I was there so I said, ‘What can I do?’ If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” he explained. “I put myself out there to all the people in the mission. I felt that I was there and I was knowledgeable and I had some resources.
“It turns out there were three people who were there that really changed the way I saw things and they made me who I am today.”
He added, the more he saw of homelessness the more he realized that he had to put himself in their shoes. He had to see homelessness through their eyes to fully understand it. He had understand the problem from the position of homelessness.
“I realized everything had to go and I had to start from scratch. I was all in,” he said. “One of the questions I get all the time is if it was difficult to give up everything. I always remind them, that at the beginning of the story I was going through a divorce. That helped me transition into homelessness. It has been a wonderful journey.
“I would never go back, because I have found so much meaning in life.”
He then opened up the floor for questions, in order to see what the kids were interested in and the questions they had about homelessness.
He ended the discussion by telling the young teenagers what they could do to effect homelessness and help those who find themselves without homes.
He said, “Let me say this, I have had the privilege of looking at different cities and seeing how it changes from city to city. I’m been at various cities and let me just say, you have a concept in town at the old high school that is just amazing. I have not seen anything like that anywhere else I’ve been.
“Do whatever you can do to keep that going and support that. They need volunteers. Whenever opportunities come up to volunteer or help, I would partner with them. That would be my recommendation.”
However, the talk wasn’t the only way Preble County schools got involved with Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. According to HIT Foundation Program Coordinator Toni Morgan, the Foundation worked with the Success Liaison Team to engage the schools in different ways.
Some school districts did coloring pages and poster projects in their elementary schools, all the districts are writing uplifting messages on quilt squares, and EHS held an assembly.
The idea was to engage the schools and students in whatever way possible and to spread awareness of homelessness at an earlier age.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH