What can we do?

HOMELESSNESS in the West is particularly abject in its misery. It often extends beyond the material poverty of the third world to include deeper mental, emotional, and spiritual poverty. The ever-mounting homeless problem has such national and social implications that the challenge to help can seem overpowering. What can we do? Proposed solutions to homelessness include providing more shelters, more low-cost housing, more job training, more drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and an increase in the minimum wage. But will spending more money significantly help? Will creating state and national commissions to investigate homelessness really help? These are a beginning, but not the answer.

The answer is selfless service within our community. The time has come for us to stand and be counted - each one of us can make a difference! Combating homelessness and other ills of our society demands an emphasis on the higher values and qualities that have been pushed aside, in our children, in favor of academic achievement and material success. Ethical and moral values - such as goodness, righteousness, love, peace, truth, purity, compassion, and service to community - need to be honored in our homes and schools.

Educational institutions have to acknowledge the value of selfless service to society. High schools and universities should recognize that service to society is as admirable as scholastic achievement and is a desirable attribute in the college admissions process. We depend on our youth to enrich society and culture once they become adults. Citizens who give selfless service to their country will bring higher character traits to the workplace - to all levels of government, all professional disciplines, all branches of education, to virtually every walk of life.

Now is the time to sanctify our lives through voluntary service according to each individual's capacity and ability. As President Kennedy so ably stated in his inaugural address, ``... and so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.''

Corporate America can join with the federal government in providing leadership and financial resources for a new peace corps for America. Such a national volunteer service corps would allow anyone - but primarily youth - to give selfless service where it is sorely needed. This kind of federal volunteer program, reminiscent of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), could perhaps be expanded into a presence felt in all our communities.

How else can America prosper, in a deeper sense, except through a resurgence of higher values, of service to our fellowman? Even a small bit of service - of help to the suffering and helpless - is important. Whatever small sacrifice we might offer in helping the homeless, if done in the right spirit without thought of reward, is worthwhile and commendable.

The surfacing of this profound malady - homelessness - provides an opportunity to act. We are not helpless. If each person, teen-ager or adult, contributes his or her personal effort to help the poor and disadvantaged, we will see a lessening of the specter of homelessness.

Man is perpetually engaged in the search for peace, but it can be obtained only through giving of oneself in working for the less privileged.

We can choose to seek a more meaningful life represented by expanded values, rather than pursuing transient benefits accruing only to one's own self and family. There is much to be done to counteract the growth of homelessness. Goodness can and will prevail. As Mother Teresa has said, ``If each one of us lights a candle, the darkness will be dispelled.''

Herbert M. Janklow, a physician, is chairman of the Homeless Task Force of the Santa Barbara County Medical Society in California.

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