How many times in your life have you sung the song, “Santa Claus is coming to town?” Kids will know the song from singing it in their classrooms and even more so from the movie, “Elf," where the people in Central Park sing it to give Santa the Christmas spirit his sled needs in order to escape the police.

The song originated when everyone needed a jolt of the Christmas spirit — kind of like now. It was written during the Great Depression when few people had anything. It was first sung by Eddie Cantor on his radio program in 1934. Cantor was a big time radio and movie star in the 1930s. Yes, it’s that old. Like during the Depression, we have people and children without a home and they will find it difficult to believe that Santa is coming to town looking for them.

"You better watch out

You better not cry

Better not pout

I'm telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town"

Lots of people have a reason to cry. Over half a million people are homeless. On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the U.S., according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). One quarter of these homeless people are children and, yes, 57,000 are veterans. San Francisco has nearly 10,000 homeless people. That number is approaching the total population of Bemidji.

"He's making a list

And checking it twice;

Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice

Santa Claus is coming to town"

Homelessness makes no discrimination between those who are naughty or nice. HUD defines homeless children as not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship; living in cars, parks, bus or train stations; or awaiting foster-care placement.

I remember when my daughter obtained a job working for an organization called “The Bridge” in Minneapolis. I asked her what she did and she said, “I’m helping homeless youth.” I knew we had lots of homeless adults but I didn’t realize that homeless youth was also an issue. Imagine, we have young people with no place to go.

I am not sure that too many homeless children are thinking about any lists that Santa is making. Some kids are probably thinking, “When Santa does come to town, how will he find me? I don’t even know where I will be.”

Bemidji is very familiar with the issue of homelessness. Organizations such as Bemidji Churches United, Village of Hope, Evergreen House, People’s Church, Support Within Reach, Wolfe Center, Ours To Serve House of Hospitality and more reach out to homeless people. It is a serious issue especially at this time of the year. We want kids all snug in their beds with sugar plums dancing in their heads. Kids need to be kids.

"He sees you when you're sleeping

He knows when you're awake

He knows if you've been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake!"

All of us take going to bed and then waking up for granted. When was the last time you thought about, “Where will I sleep tonight?” We have a bed, we have pillows and blankets and alarm clocks. We have a home to wake up in. What if we couldn’t be sure of any of those? Being bad or good isn’t really all that important. In fact, if we are bad, we might be put in jail, which may be a good thing if you are homeless.

So, who should be good for goodness sake? I would like to think that Santa is telling you and me, “Hey, I want my kids to have a home. Please help them for goodness sake.” How should we get involved? Here are some more homeless facts to consider.

  1. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women.
  2. Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent.
  3. There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before.
  4. One in five homeless people suffers from untreated severe mental illness.
  5. Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime.

You might consider putting help the homeless on your Christmas list and checking it twice or three times so you won’t forget. When Santa does come to town, let’s make sure he is coming for everyone.

Riddle: Why does Rudolph get an “A” in all of his classes? (Answer: He “nose” a lot.) You and I know one thing for sure. Everyone needs a home.

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Thanks for everyone for spreading the word about the need to graduate from high school. That would help eliminate some of our homeless issues. Thanks to Trek North for allowing me the opportunity to speak to their sixth graders. We can all help our students graduate when we:

  1. Buy our kids some books for Christmas.
  2. Read Christmas stories to your kids.
  3. Help to ensure that every young person has a home.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.