there’s a person with a story inside those tattered, dirty clothes

i’ve taken homeless people grocery shopping in new york city, but i’ve never actually sat and had a meal and conversation. in fact, there’s a part of me that wants to turn my head and pretend i don’t see them.  if i don’t see them, then i don’t have to feel guilty for not helping.

i grew up in an immigrant family with parents who would tell me, ‘this is america. if you work hard, you can make it. anyone can make it!’

the truth is there are homeless people who have no one to turn to.  i would assume they haven’t tried getting a job. that they’re lazy.  i would lump homeless people into a pool of people who just want to rely on others, and don’t want to work hard.

when i would see someone begging on the streets, i would judge them and say to myself, ‘if they worked hard, they could make it. it’s their own fault that they don’t have a place to go.’ i would turn and walk away. yet, i would never turn my back on a lost and homeless dog. in fact, i’ve devoted hours and even weeks to rescue a dog without tags.

now that i know depression and addiction, i have a completely different understanding of the homeless situation.  everyone has a story.

when i see someone on the streets now, i see that person as an individual with a troubled life.  i have compassion for him. maybe one day, i’ll make the time to take him to lunch and listen to his story. maybe one day, i’ll choose to connect.

2 thoughts on “there’s a person with a story inside those tattered, dirty clothes

  1. It is heartbreaking to see so many homeless people on our streets. It also makes me feel uncomfortable. The analytical side of me wants to understand the causes and solutions. Mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, PTSD) and poverty are among the primary causes, and there may be others I’m not aware of. When I see a mother with a small child holding a sign saying how hungry and hopeless they are it especially touches me. But I, like most people, do nothing. People say if you give them money (in some cases) they will just buy alcohol, so to the extent that’s true, it’s not a good solution. I suppose giving them food can’t hurt. Talking and trying to connect with them might help in some situations. Building homeless shelters can maybe help in some situations, but is it temporary?, and they also say many homeless would rather live on the streets, that they don’t want to be in a shelter, where there are walls and rules. Every year our temple has a program where homeless people get temporary shelter in a nice place, with good food, and families like mine come for a night, bringing a home cooked meal, and then have dinner with them. Once you start talking to them, you realize they are real people with real problems, down on their luck. These are the type of homeless who are generally pretty functional, aware, even intelligent, but they are out of work, have no money, have kids to support, etc., not the ones you see on the street talking or screaming out loud and perhaps hearing voices. The temple lets them shelter there for a couple weeks and then they are moved to another shelter somewhere in the county. I don’t know the solution but I think you must be right: it starts by recognizing these are individuals, real people.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. marc, you are such a thoughtful man. I can feel your compassion in this response -you put into beautiful words how this problem is a growing one. Thinking about the homeless as real individuals makes me want to connect instead of run, and that’s a start for me. thank you for sharing your heartfelt response marc. wow.


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