Look Them In The Eye: Seeing The Faces Of The Homeless

Santa“At one point, I was very broke living on the streets, eating stale donuts. When you are put out of someplace and you’re on the street, how you gonna pay the rent?” – Morgan Freeman

A week or two ago, a friend posted an article about a new minister who supposedly dressed up as a homeless man on his first day in his new congregation. As he walked through the sanctuary in disguise, he was shunned repeatedly and even asked to move to a different seat. When the time came, a member of the congregation went to the front to introduce the new minister. And, then the “homeless” man stood up and walked to the pulpit. Needless to say, the congregation was in shock, and some were in tears over their actions.

I am not sure why, but this story has been on my mind since I heard it.

That particular story my friend linked doesn’t appear to be true, but one or more similar stories apparently are. I found one about a Mormon Bishop who arranged a similar lesson for his congregation over Thanksgiving HERE.

On Christmas Day, Nick and I took the kids to Haywood Street Congregation, and I briefly discussed the experience in my Christmas reflection HERE. While we were serving our table, my seven-year-old said to me, “I thought you said that some of the people here were poor.” I said, “Some of them are, some of them aren’t. Some people here are homeless, and some aren’t. Why don’t you think anyone here is poor?” He answered, “No one here looks poor.”

No one here looks poor.

Is there a “look” to poverty or homelessness? I mean, as an adult, I knew that several people in the room were clearly homeless because you don’t often see people with houses carrying blankets around with them. And, I could guess at others. But, whatever my child saw that day was not a flashing red arrow pointing to someone and announcing their homelessness.

If I checked my Facebook News Feed today, I bet I would see one of the following posts – Someone complaining about “that person” with food stamps in front of them in line at the grocery store and what was in “that person’s” shopping cart; Someone complaining about the “bum” on the street corner asking for money so he can go get drunk; Someone complaining about the welfare “freeloaders” and asking why they just can’t get a job like the rest of us.

All I need to do is think about the friends and family I’ve had in my life. Some have been alcoholics or drug addicts. Some were physically or sexually abused. Some were jobless or homeless or “almost homeless” by virtue of having a friend or family member who could take them in. Some have gotten various forms of public assistance. I have a neighbor who is a paranoid schizophrenic, and when she goes off her medication, the whole street knows. There is public housing around the corner from my house. And, I’ve spent many of my working years teaching children with disabilities, many of whom will never be able to have a regular full-time job.

I’ve known all of these people. Have you?

When you see that person on the street corner asking for money, who do you see?

Do you see a freeloader?
Someone abusing your tax dollars?
A drug addict?
A veteran?
Someone who got laid off?
A teenager?
A mother and child?
Someone who could be your father or son or friend or even you?

Much of what we “believe” about homelessness simply isn’t true. And, I’d bet that more than one person reading this post is living month-to-month and could be without a home more quickly than they can imagine.

Maybe we need to stop worrying about what people are doing with the assistance they receive. We should just offer assistance when we can and be grateful that we are able to do so. More importantly, offer a smile, a handshake, or a hug to acknowledge that being homeless doesn’t affect your status as a human being.

For more information, please go to:

Myths Versus Facts on Homelessness in Asheville

Photo Identification Barriers Faced by Homeless Persons

Lessons Learned from Paula C.

A-HOPE Day Center

Asheville Homeless Network

Haywood Street Congregation Programs

Author: Tamara Reynolds

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