Marginalize. Alienate. Discount. Avoid. And even vilify.
Those are just a few verbs that describe how society has treated the homeless population and the poor. Friends on the street are held with little value and respect.
I believe personal biases and dominant narratives enlarge assumptions about homelessness.
Beliefs influence thoughts and thoughts influence actions.
New York City Relief is a mobile outreach that serves friends on the street by offering hope and resources. This compassionate organization listens, cares, and provides essentials to build a pathway of transformation. As a volunteer with New York City Relief, I have listened to stories of hardship and trauma. I have cried with those who have suffered abuse and even struggled with addiction. I have cared for those who are living in generational poverty. I have broke bread with former Wall Street Brokers who lost everything during the housing crisis. The lack of permanent housing and daily struggle to meet basic needs solidify feelings of shame, guilt, and rejection.
Yet, I struggle with shame, guilt, and rejection too.
I struggle with pride.
I battle egotistical ideas.
I believe I am a strong leader.
I believe the professional development workshops I create are powerful.
I believe my school building only needs me as its instructional coach.
I battle anxiety.
I believe my self-worth is tied to what others think of me.
My brokenness is inward.
My friends living on the street have visible needs. Their needs are observed through the human eye. However, my needs are matters of my heart. And heart matters are dangerous. Bitterness and envy can quickly consume me. My pride can lead me into believing that I can do it all on my own until I crash and burn. Shame, guilt, and rejection begin to steep.
I am emotionally immature.
Yet, I am not marginalized, alienated, and discounted like those who are living on the street or locked within the bondage of poverty.
The little value placed upon friends living on the street and those in poverty is sickening. My emotional poverty and brokenness should carry the same judgment in comparison to how society has treated the homeless population and the poor. My ego is more destructive and divisive than those visiting a mobile outreach for soup, bread, hygiene kits, and prayer.
I can do better.
We can do better.
Start with living love and giving dignity.
When you encounter a friend on the street make eye contact. Seriously, do it. Do not look away or turn your eyes. Acknowledge them. Let this friend know that you see them. Let he or she know that they are present in a world that cloaks them with invisibility. Smile. Say hello or even lean upon my favorite phrase, “hi, friend.” This action gives hope. It demonstrates respect. It gives dignity.
Start with this simple action.
This action can change your thoughts about the homeless and the poor. And your thoughts can change your beliefs.
Live love and give dignity.