A strange question that may alarm us or make us curious. The answer to both is simple and easy to do. ARKs can be found on the street, in your home, at work, or within a nonprofit organization. Just about anywhere you are you will be either a passenger (recipient) or a giver of an ARK. They are “Acts of Random Kindness,” opportunities to change the world one day at a time.

An ARK, I believe, is one of the most accessible solutions to our homelessness issue in our community that we all can be part of. ARKs can come in the form of actions, words, or ideas. The issue of homelessness, both short and long-term in Rome, is near and dear to my heart. I proudly call some of these individuals, my friends. We laugh together; we tease each other and offer each other encouragement. I want my friends to be able to have a place they can proudly call home. A place where they can safely stow their possessions to avoid theft, which happens all too often.

In 2009, a plan to reduce homelessness in Rome was developed, called “Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness One Person at a Time” in attempts to resolve our community’s issue of homelessness. Before ARKs or this plan can be successful, we must first ask ourselves, what does it mean to be homeless or “facing imminent loss of housing,” or “precariously housed”? Presently, almost 900 children in Rome are officially homeless, classified as living in that last category. That high number is heartbreaking.

Next, we need to look at how we respond to the individuals presently living in this unfortunate position, hopefully we will do this with empathy. Do we judge, criticize or say that these folks are lazy? On the other hand, we could take that same minute of energy needed to board an ARK instead and be compassionate to folks living in non-traditional settings or urban campsites. It takes just as much energy to pass judgment as it does to think and act compassionately.

I applaud our police officers for stepping out and asking for clarification on the previous ordinance that did not solve the problem of panhandling and urban camping. They broke the cycle in their attempt to solve a problem in a different way and inadvertently reignited the cogs of change from 2009. They experience first-hand the heartbreak of homelessness and respond by boarding ARKs regularly. Our underpaid heroes do more than we realize, but then, that is a story for another day.

The “Breaking the Cycle” plan provides definitions of five different types of homelessness: Sheltered Homeless, Unsheltered Homeless persons, “Other” homeless persons, Facing Imminent Loss of Housing and Precariously Housed Persons. It also includes a breakdown of our homeless population based on a 2008 count. Then it told us that 71% were primarily males with a characteristic of being middle-aged and white. So why are we attempting to create another shelter for women who experience domestic violence?

We need to conduct a more accurate count of numbers of persons experiencing homelessness in each category. Fifty-eight organizations were represented on the first Task Force on Homelessness in 2009 — can we boast of that now?

Any individual NOT associated with the HOPE Alliance task force can start making a difference with an ARK every day in a myriad of ways. We can ease their loneliness and uncertainty that comes with living in one of six ways that homelessness exists here in Floyd County. Let us make ARKs our driving force in navigating our way to practical solutions.

Instead of turning away from someone who is shabbily dressed, perhaps carrying all they own in bags or acting differently, we could smile at them. We could say hello, ask them how they are doing that day, offer them a mini bag of treats full of home-baked cookies. Sometimes the response you may get is uncalled for, or you may not get any response at all. Nevertheless, your random acts of kindness add to a healthier and happier you. Eventually, ARKs will become a habit. Can you imagine the impact that your ARKs would have on our community? When you see others embark on an ARK, doesn’t it make you smile? The smallest gestures of kindness are the most touching; a smile can be the simplest way to share your ARK and are so helpful in addressing our homelessness issue.

Another form of ARKs is the seeds of change lovingly planted when someone shares their ideas to make a difference. I say we should all think of one way we could help. I will start first. The lack of money in over-burdened non-profits that plague those organizations, make it difficult to initiate change and add new programs. So here is an idea ... maybe an art student could design an “ARK” T-shirt (for credit), and a graphics company could donate the screening fee. Then churches could sponsor a different aspect in the production of this fundraiser.

With everyone’s help, we should be able to achieve some, if not all, of the 23 action items initially developed for the Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness One Person at a Time Report. After all, we live in Rome, the most giving community in all of North Georgia!

Please email me with your thoughts and ideas, and I will make sure that they get to the HOPE Alliance. To review the 2009 BCH 2009 report/plan, go to www.romefloyd.com.

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is bettyannschaaf@gmail.com.

Recommended for you