Why I Admire the Homeless

Jan 26, 2016 | Social Responsibility

They’re resilient in a way I’m not.

Being homeless is hard. This seems obvious, but for those of us who are comfortable everyday, I’m not sure we give it enough thought.

I know I don’t.

As the weather turns cold each year, I wake up each morning with my first thought, and prayer, on those who spent the night outside. It’s something I’ve done for more than a decade.

Being homeless is more than hard. It’s inhumane. Yet people who experience this grotesque way of living exist through it in ways that are quite admirable.

(On a side note: language is important here. “The homeless” is a degrading way to refer to other human beings, as they are more than their homelessness. Whenever possible I’ll use “people who are homeless” as an attempt to convey that.)

Here are some important lessons I’ve learned from my friends and work at Outreach, Holy Family Shelter, Positive Link, and The Empowerment Plan:Abandoned house web lg

  • You’re sleeping in an an abandoned house or the concrete sidewalk, wrapped in sleeping bags, or even less. I spent a Saturday trying different mattresses at a store, looking for just the right one with low VOC and locally made.
  • You’re outside in frigid temperatures or public buildings with zero control. For the first time ever, I’ve committed to keeping my home thermostat at 66 as a small way to give not in to my need for comfort. I shudder as I walk from my front door to my car.
  • You may not have one winter coat. Up until two weeks ago, I owned four and three pairs of gloves.
  • People avert their eyes to you to avoid connection. I want people to listen to me when I speak (and sometimes be the center of attention).
  • You have no resting place. Being afraid for your life is your norm. My home is my sanctuary where I re-charge and relax and share love.
  • You rely on strangers donations for personal care products. I use expensive, all natural deodorant.

Here’s the thing: I’m a weenie.

AND we don’t give enough credit to these individuals and families who get through short and long stretches of time living on the streets, in their cars, and other foul places. They exhibit a resourcefulness that is unimaginable to many of us.

What would happen if you or I were stuck outside in the winter —  with no friends, family, shelter, or heat? I’m not sure I’d make it. Personally, I’d be hungry, pissed off, loneliness, heartbroken. I witnessed a man opening a food can with a screwdriver. I own three food processors and blender. #spoiled

Here are the lessons I’m trying to learn right now:

  • I’m waaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy too comfortable. I owned four winter coats for Christ’s sake!
  • Loneliness is heartbreaking. For those who are hard to love (they smell bad because they haven’t showed or done laundry in weeks; they’ve taken on a gruff personality because they’re hardened by heartbreak), it’s my role as another human being to attempt to connect with them. Period.
  • We spend a lot of time shaming and pitying others who don’t live up to our standards, particularly those who are homeless. Instead we can focus on the ways we celebrate their resourcefulness and tenacity. What can I do more of to build human connection?
  • If I say I’m a person who cares deeply about what causes the heartbreak of others, then I must be willing to give up more and become more uncomfortable.

My heartbreak for those who are experiencing homeless isn’t enough. And I don’t pretend that it is. This is why we volunteer and donate at Outreach and share the real stories of those who are homeless. Plus other one-on-one relationships in my neighborhood.

What are ways you admire those who financially poor but amazing in other ways?