There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help. – Jan Schakowsky
The Homeless bug me.
That they exist at all in Western society is ridiculous; and testament to any number of corruptions and imperfections and levels of greed and selfishness in The System. But equally, I suppose, there are groups and institutions in place to try to support them, and if (for whatever reason) these Homeless are unable or unwilling to access them and stay off the streets, then they’re going to remain an unsightly and unwelcome part of our society.
They’re going to be there in shop doorways with their mean-looking dogs and their grubby sleeping bags and their grimy unwashedness, asking for hand-outs or spare change.
And that bugs me.
It bugs me because each time I encounter a person like this, I get slammed headlong into a wall of my own judgement.
‘The Homeless’ – that sweeping category which brings to mind all the stereotypes I just mentioned, and depersonalises each member of that group to the point where we as a society (in large part) and I as an individual can walk past a person in the street, can hear them calling out their need to me, and can just be irritated that they’ve highlighted the disparity between our wealth statuses, and that I’m being silently damned by my lack of response.
There are things which I tell myself are good (enough) reasons to keep walking:
“I’m in a hurry today”
“I don’t have any ‘spare’ change”
“I am a lone woman – it might not be safe”
“What if they just spend it on drugs or alcohol?”
“What if they’re just scamming?”
“Other people have clearly given them something – they’ll be okay”
My reasons suck, and they leave me very convicted that I’m not yet evolved enough as a person to rest easy with my own conscience. There is work to be done in me, if I will engage in doing it, and I think I need to. I often say (or write) things like ‘together we’re stronger’ or ‘we all belong to each other’, and I profess to believe those things. I do believe them. I just need to stop acting like I don’t.
Because homelessness doesn’t stop someone being a person, and that’s the bit I sometimes often neglect to remember. I bring my judgey attitude instead and imagine all the awful things and use them as an excuse, if I don’t just let myself off the hook entirely with a ‘higher priority than stopping to help’ reason.
It’s not my place to judge, and it’s certainly not ‘letting myself off the hook’ to avoid acts of compassion. Yes, it’s important to remain safe, and I wouldn’t (as a lone woman) stop for someone if there was no-one else around, because that’s common sense – but the instances I’m talking about are in broad daylight in busy streets. I keep walking, and it does me no credit.
I recently saw a video which made me really angry. We were in church, and the vicar showed it to us as an example of how (as a society) we value status and appearance above people. In it, an actor dressed as a homeless man collapsed to the pavement, coughing, in the middle of a busy street. He then lay there, not moving. No-one rushed to help him. No-one even stopped to ask if he was okay. They just kept walking by, their eyes sliding over him and away again as they carried on with their days. The subtitles showed a time-stamp which moved onwards and onwards as people looked at him (if they bothered to notice him at all) and walked away.
Then the same man, this time dressed in a suit, as a businessman, was shown collapsing in the same manner, on the same street (on a different day, or at a different time) and people immediately started going over, and others stopped to check that he was receiving help before walking on.
I was angry at the attitude of people who would so readily allow their negative preconceptions to prevent them from reaching out to another human being in need. I was angry because their assumption that a homeless person lying flat on the floor calling for help was just ‘doing what homeless people do’, whereas a businessman clearly had no place lying on the floor. I was angry that the stereotypes we hold are so strong that they blind us to the plight of another human being – a precious soul with likes and dislikes and interests and family and pet-peeves and big problems and little niggles and a past and a future – and they allow us to completely, utterly ignore them when they need help.
I was angry at ‘Homelessness’.
And I was angry at myself, because I know, deep down, that I probably wouldn’t have stopped either.
Don’t get me wrong – I try to do my bit. I give to a local food bank; I sometimes buy food for a homeless person in preference to giving them cash; I buy the homeless magazine which gets published in England. But I still judge. I still look at a person in need and make a call on whether or not they’re deserving of my money or my time or my intervention, based on their appearance.
That’s not the ‘together we’re stronger’ I want to display – one with provisos and conditions.
That’s not the ‘we all belong to each other’ I want to buy into – one with exclusions and expectations.
That’s not the ‘love for your fellow human’ that I want to demonstrate.
When you are sick or hungry or lost or alone or imprisoned or hurting or just struggling, and you need a neighbour, I want to be able to say “Yes – I will be there.”
And it shouldn’t matter to me who ‘you’ are.
Lizzi is a Deep Thinker, Truth-Teller and seeker of Good Things. She’s also silly, irreverent and tries to write as beautifully as possible.
She’s living the life of Silver Linings and *twinklysparklygoodness* because two miscarriages and a subsequent diagnosis of spousal infertility will rather upset anyone’s applecart. She borrows other people’s children in the meantime.
At the moment, she’s trying to help kick cancer’s ass by ‘selling’ her writing in exchange for donations to your favourite cancer charity. Give her a hand, if you will, and get in touch if you want her to write for you.