We see them on downtown streets, under bridges and in public buildings, many carrying everything they own in a black plastic bag, a backpack or a “borrowed” supermarket shopping cart.
Sometimes we look into their blank faces and perhaps nod a greeting. But often we try to avoid eye contact with these people for fear of being asked for a handout, or as a means of guarding our own comfort zones.
They are among some of our most unfortunate neighbors, for they are members of a community called homeless. And although this time of year — during the holidays — they get an enormous amount of attention, rarely do people get to know them.
Two years ago Tarrant County had 2,169 homeless people, with 136 of them living outdoors. A census taken in January showed the number has risen 10 percent, including an increase in the number of homeless families with children (from 292 in 2011 to 338). Homeless children were 26 percent of the homeless population two years ago; now they are 31 percent.
It’s not uncommon to see religious groups and other organizations compete during these cold-weather months to supply food, coats and blankets to those who sleep in shelters and on the streets.
But homelessness is not a seasonal condition; neither are the needs of those who for the most part are nameless to the scores who randomly hand out sandwiches, soup and home-cooked meals.
Thankfully, Tarrant County is blessed with several organizations and programs that work and share with this population year-round. And they do get to know their names.
Just as people live on the streets, many die on the streets, often being buried before those acquainted with them even know they are dead. Homelessness shortens life expectancy.
Thirty-one homeless people died in Tarrant County this year. In Fort Worth this week, and in five other Texas cities, those who died will be appropriately remembered — by name — in memorial services commemorating National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which is Saturday.
The two Fort Worth services will be Wednesday, first at 2 p.m. at the Salvation Army’s J.E. & L.E Mabee Center on East Lancaster Avenue, and then at a 6:30 candlelight service at Union Gospel Mission’s Deborah Hall Chapel.