Now, the thing about homelessness is that it is a societal issue that ranks right up there with gender and race inequality and world hunger. Some of the world’s most brilliant minds and compassionate hearts have worked tirelessly to completely eliminate the issue of homelessness but to date, have fallen short. But, I believe that this is because homelessness is not actually the problem, but rather the symptom of a much deeper problem: lack of community.
Your view of a homeless person may likely be the man with the grey beard, wearing ripped clothes, missing teeth, often smoking, who sleeps in the bush or in the alley or on random front porches. He is in fact homeless, but so is the young man who stands at the busy intersection with the cardboard sign that reads “homeless and hungry”. So is the teenager that dropped out of school and spends his nights going from couch to couch with nowhere to go. Even the single mother who can’t afford to feed her children or pay the rent and faces eviction is homeless. These people have no “safety net”, no community.
You know what happened as we walked through that park on that cold, spring morning? Everybody avoided that poor woman. What she needed most in that time of her life was a friend, and do you know what she got? The cold shoulder, disgusted glances, and snickering teenage boys making fun of her old, oversized clothes. Even the teachers steered clear of her like she was some kind of disease! Why? Why do we do that as a society? I see why everybody avoided her, it wasn’t that long ago when I would have done the same thing.
Think about this for just a second: If you were to lose everything you had over night, materially speaking, and you were left with nothing, would you become “homeless”? No, right? This is because you will always have a family member who will offer you a room or help you get a job, and you will always have a friend that will cook meals for you, give you some money to get back on your feet. You have a safety net. You see, homelessness only occurs when there is no safety net, no community. So, we need to constantly be in community with people around us in order to prevent homelessness and provide community to those who are already homeless, and hopeless. When we are connected to people, invested in them, when we truly know them we will care about their wellbeing.
Sandra. Her name was Sandra. As everyone else walked by, I went over and sat with her. We talked, shared stories, laughed, and got to know each other. I bought her a coffee and made her smile, likely for the first time in a very long time. I got to be the light in her day. I got to show her that someone out there actually cares for her and loves her. I got to show her that she matters. And all it took was for me to sit down and talk to her. Sometimes you should sit on the bench.