If Americans look at the homeless around them at all, they see disheveled, sometimes incoherent adults wandering the streets of big cities and passing the night on sidewalks in ratty sleeping bags.
They don't, as often, notice the growing number of entire families on the street - or the thousands and thousands of dispossessed people in rural America. They include many of what's called the "economic homeless," displaced by layoffs and other recent troubles brought on by the recession. The USA Today newspaper recently wrote about an entire tent city of the economically displaced in Pinellas County, Florida.
In Cecil County, Maryland, you'll find the homeless among the 14,000 citizens of Elkton, the county seat, and also living in the woods and under bridges, like the hoboes who huddled around campfires during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
But it is also in Cecil County that you'll find Clairvaux Farm, an 8-hectare (20-acre) spread with a farmhouse, barns, meeting house, chapel, cookhouse and small houses that are home to about 50 of the previously homeless. It's run by a Presbyterian group called Meeting Ground but also receives outside donations of food and money and volunteers by the hundreds from across the nation.
And Meeting Ground is opening a daytime-only center in Elkton that will offer showers, food and friendship to those people from the woods.
Not everyone in Cecil County is thrilled about this. As the Elkton newspaper wrote recently, "No one wants people asking for handouts at shopping centers. We'd all like to see the makeshift tents disappear. [But] short of issuing every homeless person a one-way bus ticket out of town, there is no easy way to 'just get rid of them.'"
The paper applauded Meeting Ground's ministry to the homeless and its efforts to teach people job and interviewing skills.
Meeting Ground Director Carl Mazza, a minister who himself had no home as a teenager, says homeless people's stay at Clairvaux Farm lasts an average two months while they get their dignity back and re-enter what he calls the "human community." They don't have to be society's lone wolves, fending for themselves, he says. And their children can be warm, welcome and safe.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.