Yesterday I had a chance to sit down with a group of people who were waiting to have services bridged. The people in this group, like so many of the homeless we serve at the health center, were anxious, perhaps a little fearful, perhaps a little guarded; worried that they might be judged or treated like lesser people. Instead, they were treated with respect and compassion. We explained what the afternoon would look like, we had some quiet music in the background, we offered some grounding meditation, and then we waited for the connections to be made.
While waiting, gentle conversation was intitated by the facilitator; opening a door for connection and non-threatening relationship building. The longer we talked, the deeper the conversation became. Two men engaged in sharing experiences of being homeless. One man was living outdoors and the other was “couch surfing;” stating that he was sheltered but not necessarily safe.
I wanted to share with you some of the content from that conversation because it’s one thing to know –intellectually- what people experiencing homelessness endure, it’s another thing entirely to listen to their experiences as they talked with each other, sharing and commiserating, seeking understanding from us listeners … from anyone willing to move beyond the stigma and stereotyping of homelessness.
“I carry all of my stuff in a backpack and never put it down, I learned a long time ago that it would get stolen if I put it down”
Both men shared experiences of having everything they owned, which is just enough to fit into a backpack, taken, stolen, or broken, more than once. It made me think about a time my apartment was broken into. I felt so violated because some stranger had been in my house and had picked through my things, took my stuff. I felt afraid that it would happen again. The burglar only took a few things, I can’t imagine how I would feel if everything I owned was suddenly gone. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have nothing, nothing and maybe even no one. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine how I would feel if all my belongings were yanked from my back, or if I was beaten up so someone could have my pack full of my worldly goods. I can’t imagine how it would feel to not have the resources, any resources, to replace the few meager items that were taken from me. Unless one has experienced homelessness, I think we would all be hard-pressed to fully imagine this world of fear, trauma, and abuse.
I could write pages on the topics that were covered, but instead I’ll leave you with some of the sentiments that were shared. I ask that you compassionately imagine the honesty and the earnestness with which these stories were shared. I ask that you understand how much courage it took for these guys to share their stories. I ask that you add those experiencing homelessness to your prayers.
“If I had housing then so much of my mental illness would go away because so much of how I act is because of what happens to me… brought on by being homeless.”
“There is a cycle of homelessness, you can’t get a job if you don’t have an address and you can’t get housing unless you can prove that you have some income.”
“People see a skinny guy on the street and assume he’s an addict; they don’t realize he’s skinny because he hasn’t had a good meal in days.”
“If I could just get a place to stay, three meals, access to my medications and services…housing would help me to get myself together so that I can go out and get a job and be a productive person.”
“Of course I want to work; no one wants to live off of other people.”
Praying for peace of mind, a safe place to stay, a nourishing meal, and compassionate understanding for the journey of people experiencing homelessness.