In fifth grade, I traveled to South Africa for my aunt’s wedding and first visited Cape Town, a city with a homeless population of over 7,000 people. A man had approached my family, begging for money. He was missing an eye and a few fingers on his hand. I recall wondering “What’s his story? How could something like this happen to him? Why could God let people suffer like this?” I hadn’t realized this man represented a larger population of people throughout the world because so many others have suffered a similar fate. A few days later, as we ventured out of the city, we passed through a place called Shanty Town. Since I had grown up in a well off part of Dallas, I was shocked to see thousands of colorful shacksleaned against each other, threatening to collapse. I distinctly remember my heart breaking at the sight and thought of others having to live in those conditions, relying on human kindness.
Truly, I often don’t realize how lucky I am. I take things for granted. Food, shelter, even education. There are people all over the world who can’t afford a home, some who rely on scraps to survive, and children who walk hours and miles over dangerous terrain for a limited learning experience. For some middle and upper class people, thinking about the difficulties others go through isn’t a daily thought. In the mornings, I hop in my nice car and drive 30 minutes to my private school. I don’t often think about how the night before, someone lost their life out in the street, or how another person spent hours enduring the harsh weather, scared beyond belief. I watch from my car as police officers approach people for begging in the streets. We all do this. Sometimes, we judge. Sometimes, we look down on them. Sometimes, we criticize and don’t put ourselves in their shoes.
I don’t think most people realize everyone has their own story. Sometimes we focus on what we can see and what is clearly written. Humans tend to shy away from uncertainty and look for the easier answer and story. However, we don’t know their stories, we don’t know what they’ve had to endure, what choices they made or didn’t make, or what happened to land them where they are. But we can try to understand and help. As a volunteer at a homeless shelter, I met so many wonderful people these last few years, working so hard to fight against unfair circumstances. Many had lost their homes trying to pay off medical bills from cancer or tragic car accidents. Some lost their jobs when the economy crashed. Others (about 9 percent of the US population) were veterans, who fought so hard for this country, only to lose a place to call home.
There’s a certain mindset homeless people are drug addicts or are lazy & wasted their money on superficial items. Nonetheless, they’re people just like us. Often, they’re the ones with big hearts and enough compassion to fill the great state of Texas. Of course, as is with any story, there are exceptions. Each homeless person is very different, and while many are working to get back on their feet, there are some are still engaging in troubling behavior. These inconsistencies in the homeless population make it hard for most to trust and help them. And it’s these exceptions the media portrays. Since the world we live in now has taught us to fear and be suspicious with any person, most citizens regard homeless people as dangerous. Granted, we wouldn’t go as far as to offer shelter in our own home because no matter how much we wish otherwise, there’s no level of trust in our world and with as many imposters as there are, it could be dangerous. What homeless people need most is love and laughter. In order to make a difference in the world, all it takes is simple interaction with the intention of making them smile. As more and more people communicate with homeless people, perceptions will change and people will realize they are not as sketchy as some portray them to be.
It isn’t the masses’ responsibility to immediately find jobs and shelter for everyone. It’s not that we shouldn’t appreciate what we have or even begin to criticize humanity in general. We’re allowed to spend the money we work so hard for and eat out at nice restaurants or buy ourselves a gift. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to go out of our way to help others.
A simple smile and hello can brighten anyone’s day. To someone who’s living out on the cold streets, a stranger’s kindness can turn their day around. The most powerful thing we can do is donate to organizations who work to help people and fight against homelessness by offering to buy a homeless person a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts or keep granola bars in your car to give to those who ask for change. Also, instead of throwing out your out-of-style coat in the back of the closet, donate it to the nearest Goodwill. We can volunteer at homeless shelters and tutor kids less fortunate. Most importantly, we can educate.Homelessness is all around us. It’s on the corner of most cities, hiding in alleyways, and holding a cardboard at the side of every highway. It’s impossible to combat world hunger & homelessness at once, but it’s a war every person can try to fight.