Befriending the homeless a feared but rewarding act
Lazy, stupid, mentally ill, filthy, drug addict, eye sore–these are among the most hostile, stereotypical views we have against homeless or needy people out on the streets, and it seems we enjoy ignoring them, while giving scornful glares and talking trash behind their backs.
It’s the loneliest feeling for a homeless person–desiring short, quality fellowship with random, wealthier people, like us, walking by, only to see them give one quick glance and move right on with their day. Countless times I’ve done this while strolling down the streets of Oakland and San Francisco, and on almost every occasion I’ve felt this rock-hard conviction in my heart to pray for these homeless people and to physically interact with them as real human beings.
Some of these homeless people are not on the streets because they wanted to. (C’mon, you really think they would?) It’s probably more so because there were some uncontrollable circumstances previously in their life that forced them to the streets. Perhaps a husband lost his wife and children to tragic deaths and now must beg for coins from passersby, because he has no alternative way to make a living or buy a small snack from the liquor store. Therefore, you and I cannot say, “It’s his fault. He deserves every ounce of homelessness he’s in right now, because he decided to waste whatever money he had left on drugs and alcohol, which rid him of the psychological and emotional pain of losing his family.”
Losing my immediate family–mom, dad and sister–would permanently devastate me, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am so grateful they are alive and well, and very much involved in my life. If I were in that husband’s shoes, I sure would be drowning in a pit of despair, crying my eyes out, and seeking any willing and compassionate stranger in the marketplace to stop and talk to me so that I can share my life story and take comfort in releasing my pain and anguish.
But no, we think we’re too good to stop and listen to the raggedy, old guy on the side pleading for some small cha-ching. Just imagine the guy saying, “Do you not see me? Do you know I can see you? You’re not invisible and I’m not either. I see you! See me! So, please don’t treat me like I am and I won’t treat you like it either.”
We treat the average homeless person as if he or she doesn’t even exist or doesn’t belong in this world.
“I think we do this because we feel guilty, think they are less than us, don’t care, or don’t want to feel responsible for the poverty and injustice in our world,” says Michelle Silvashy, who’s on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at SSU. “If we do own up to our responsibility and acknowledge it, we will need to do something about it. And, who wants to do that? Who wants to give up their precious time or give up their precious resources?”
Honestly, nobody-speaking of the average “wealthy” American. The media inundates us with tons of ads that perpetuate the concept of capitalism and the notion that more is better. But while we are accumulating more DVDs and spending too much money on junk food, children and communities in developing countries are taking the brunt of our ignorance in the areas of hunger, poverty and health.
According to the “Bread for the World” Web site (www.bread.org) , 852 million people across the world are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago. Every day, more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes–one child every five seconds. That means in the typical 2-hour and 40-minute class at SSU, 1,920 children will have died in that time span. I’m not kidding you, and numbers like these don’t lie.
“There is no reason for any family to go hungry, as we have more than enough resources in our community, and globally, to feed the entire world,” Silvashy adds.
“The heartbreaking thing when you think about international poverty in countries like South Africa, Uganda, Sudan, India, Egypt and Thailand is that we might be giving them food now, but that’s only after they are starving,” says philosophy major Robert Schwinn. “Why do we wait until children’s bellies are bulging, and you can see their bones? It seems to me we are only treating a long-term problem with an immediate solution, because too much time, effort and commitment is required to actually change lives, and because it is far easier to hand someone your change.”
It is also far easier to pile your tray at the dining hall yay-high than to take only what you really are going to consume. As someone who does dishes at the dining hall (and pulls trays off the carousel), I hate throwing away full bowls and plates of food that homeless people need 24/7. Quit taking more than you need and start thinking about the family that went to bed last night, having only eaten a few pieces of broccoli and some berries.
I’ll admit it’s the hardest thing to step outside of our comfort zone, walk up to the homeless, regardless of their appearance, and invite them into our home, or treat them to a meal at Shangri-La or Wendy’s. It’s not an easy task, but for the sake of minimizing hunger, poverty and malnutrition, as well as meeting the psychological and social needs of the homeless, it will be well worth our effort.
After all, as the Christian rock group Switchfoot puts it, “We were meant to live for so much more.” Simply put, if we genuinely engage with the homeless and contribute to charitable causes through SOUP (Serving Our Unfed People) or the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Santa Rosa, the world will indeed be a better and happier place. Then you can say to the homeless, as British singer Phil Collins would, “It’s just another day for you, you and me in paradise.”