Today while procrastinating, I was reading one of my favourite blogs, Waiter Rant (http://www.waiterrant.net/). He directed us readers to another blog he came across that has really stuck in my mind. This blog (http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/) publishes the words of a previously-homeless guy in Nashville, TN.
Working in the area of the city that I do, I come across the homeless on a daily basis. Sometimes I give change when they ask without aggression, if I happen to have change in my pocket. Sometimes when I am in the Tim Horton's buying my $1.20 coffee, I will hold onto the change so I can drop it into the cup of the guy holding the door for people. But more often than not, I shamefully look past them. And then I will feel guilt, especially if they are polite and wish me a good day.
Now it is getting colder and I wonder how many of the homeless would wish to have their own home and the responsibilities that come with it, and how many actually prefer the streets. It's awful how we as a society often make presumptions that there is always a choice being homeless and un-homeless. There are, of course, those who still see the homeless as individual people who have stories and reasons for being in their situation, and they are active in providing hope through help and compassion. But when is the last time you got to learn the name of the guy pan-handling on the corner?
I need to change my perception, and be more conscious in how I treat the homeless. Maybe carry Tim Horton's gift certificates readily-available in my pocket. It's not an altogether altruistic goal. It would make me feel better about myself, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.
I noticed that it is often the children who can look at the homeless without fear. One great example is Hannah Taylor, who started the Ladybug Foundation (http://www.ladybugfoundation.ca) to help the homeless. I believe she was only 5 when she noticed the plight of the homeless and set about to do something about it. One day while waiting for a traffic light to change, I saw one child, maybe about 4 or 5, asked his father for change to drop into the stranger's cup. I saw another mother physically shield her daughter from the homeless guy. People are afraid of, dismissive with or regard with contempt the things that they are unfamiliar with. I guess it is because children are less jaded that they can show more compassion without having first to wrestle with their conscience.
It takes a village to raise a child (this could be a lead-in to a discussion on the recent spate of violent gun-related crimes in the city...), and likewise, I think it takes a "village" to help the less fortunate back on their feet. When people are down on their luck or depressed, they need support from others to get through it. You never know if you could find yourself in a position where you feel so helpless or hopeless. Only those with hope for a better future can lift themselves out of the hole, but when you are already down in that hole, the climb may seem long, dark, lonely and near impossible. In the past year, people have been very generous and poured in aid for the tsunami, eartquake and hurricane victims abroad, but we also need to look in our own backyard.
Give a little hope this holiday season.