Aaron is 43 years old, a journeyman electrician, and sleeps under the High Level Bridge. To know how he got here you could go back to the day he got released from prison and didn’t have any family, friends or belongings to help him integrate back into society, but did have the added challenge of trying to find a job with a criminal record that had a very recent conviction for theft. But you’d have to go back to how he got that conviction; to the night that he broke into his boss’s shed to steal the power tools so that he could sell them to the pawn shop to get money to buy crack. But then you’d need to know how he started smoking crack in the first place, about how his wife left him because he was an alcoholic and abusive, and he got introduced to it by one of his shadier friends from the bars at a moment when he was aching for something to take the pain and shame away. You’d have to go back further though, to why he became an alcoholic in the first place, and at this point the details get a bit more sketchy. Because you could say that it really started when he fell and injured his back at work and was at home on disability. Sure he was already a bit of a drinker before then, but sitting at home not being able to produce or contribute seemed to push him further into the bottle. Or you could say that his alcoholism was a natural progression from partying as a teenager to having a drink or two every day after work to leaving the house only to pick up a pack of smokes and a case of the cheapest beer available. Or you could do the one thing that Aaron would never do and say that it was a coping mechanism for the pain and self-hatred that he felt. That it was a way to suppress the strange desires and fragmented thoughts he had which were a result of some of the things that happened to him when he was in foster care, before he came to his adoptive family who did their best to love him even though they had their own problems and never did seem to be able to break through the shell he had already at 8 years old created around his heart. You could say that the times he was beaten by one of his foster dads, or all the times he was sexually abused at the hands of several older foster “brothers”, or the abandonment he felt of not having ever known if his birth parents loved him all combined to create in him an ability to survive without ever having to entrust his true self to anyone else. You could say that the lessons he learned about life in those formative years were that if you don’t take care of yourself no one else will, that no one is there to protect you, and that the world is a violent and hostile place in which people do vile and unspeakable acts to those closest to them. You could indeed be tempted to say that Aaron was never able to fully trust or understand “normal” people and that his mind was never once at peace except when it was under the influence of chemicals that pushed out the pain and confusion. So there are more than one or two simple reasons why Aaron is camped out under the bridge tonight, and more complex factors even than those described here. This is why it’s so difficult to answer the question “why are people homeless?” Each story is different, but unfortunately each story carries a variety of experiences of trauma, illness, abuse, and pain- often beginning at a very early age- that lead a person to a place in which homelessness is just one of many sad facts about their life and experience. Not all the facts of their lives are sad however: Homelessness does not have to equal hopelessness, but unfortunately for many people at many times it does and this is why the work done by groups that work with those experiencing homelessness is so crucial. These groups are taking on the long and arduous task of helping to change the narrative of a life, of creating a story of hope out of a story of sorrow. Some individuals never get to that place of a better future, and some do. Thankfully there are those who overcome not just the lack of a home, but the obstacles, whether created by them or others, that would continue to impair their ability to live a life of peace that they themselves would consider to be worthwhile and meaningful. And each life that becomes a story of hope increases the chances that there will be less lives in the future that are marred by the kind of pain and sadness that lead a person like Aaron to this point in his story (which we pray is not over yet). Each changed life becomes someone more likely to help rather than harm those closest, and more likely to create a new future for others rather than reenact a sad past.