Tuesday’s front page story on the University of Oklahoma’s new pro bono counseling program and a column on the opinion page by Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, were two examples of what can happen when caring people stop viewing “the homeless” as a problem to be solved and start seeing them as real people with real, individual problems.
Lisa Frey, director of OU’s Counseling Psychology Clinic, spoke of a phone call she received from a homeless person asking for free counseling. “It was not a fun phone call,” she told Transcript reporter Nanette Light. “For me, it was an epiphany.”
That epiphany led to the clinic’s offering some services for free to people who can’t afford even the clinic’s lowest fee of $5.
The pro bono program serves 10 people at a time and takes them through a series of eight intense counseling sessions. Considering the number of people who need help and the seriousness of some of their problems, that may seem like a drop in the bucket, but it has the potential to change lives. Working through the most immediate crisis and being directed toward other help may be enough to get a client headed out of the homelessness trap, and a positive experience with counseling will make it more likely that the person will seek help in the future if more problems arise.
With Mr. Collins, the “eye-opener” came about through a constituent who insisted that he help a desperate family of homeless people living in a tent near a Norman park. Through his contacts with local agencies — East Main Place, Mission Norman, the Salvation Army, the St. Vincent DePaul Society — he was able to get the family out of the searing heat, but the experience, he wrote, “pointed out to me that while we helped one family, we only saw the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as others are still waiting. … I worry about whether or not enough help is available.”
With the heat in the triple digits and the economy in a slump, that’s a serious concern. There may not be enough help available. And there certainly won’t be enough help available if we all stand aside and wait for the the Big Answer to come along and solve the whole homelessness issue.
Whether it’s donating money to an agency or offering our unique talents as the counselors at OU are doing, there’s something most of us could do to help. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but with enough drops added together even the biggest bucket can be filled to overflowing.