There’s a woman who sits on the steps of a Catholic church in my neighborhood. She smiles at passersby and is not shy about asking for money. She complimented my shoes on Sunday, and I complimented her warm coat. She has told me that she lives in the area and is usually waiting for a ride (from who, to where, I’m not sure). Our conversations are brief and kind, and she doesn’t fail to ask that next time, I bring her a Visa gift card or a phone card.
I will admit: Sometimes I avoid walking down that street so that I don’t have to face refusing her requests for money again. It’s an awkward and tiresome thing. But in my months poring over material about homelessness, one thing I have learned is that a common experience among the homeless is a feeling of invisibility. No one looks at them. No one acknowledges their presence.
They are swept to the sides of human interaction and society. Isolated.
It makes sense why we would avoid eye contact and conversation. We don’t know how to help without reaching into our pockets for money. Refusing the request is uncomfortable. And sometimes, there is a legitimate safety concern.
Might I suggest that we begin to make it a point, in kindness and with wisdom, to acknowledge the homeless we pass on our streets in our daily goings-on. Let us look them in the eye, say hello, and even dare to ask them how their day is going. Ask them their name, and repeat it back to them.
Let us acknowledge their humanity, for it is their humanity that has been stripped from them, whether by trauma and abuse, drug addiction, or a severe mental illness.
You don’t have to have all the answers, resources, or even the money to show them the courtesy of a smile and a human interaction.
A second way we can be of help is by donating to a homeless service. Below are the names and donation links of homeless services we have highlighted at the Center on Wealth & Poverty this year, services which we believe are trustworthy and make a real difference in the lives of the homeless and the communities around them:
- Community First! Village | Austin, TX | Give here
- Orting Veterans Village | Orting, WA | Give here
- Breadcoin | Washington, D.C. | Give here
- Acres of Diamonds | Duvall, WA | Give here
- Orange County Rescue Mission | Orange County, California | Give here
If you’re interested in donating somewhere local that you can trust, you can search for nearby programs at City Gate Network.