Have you ever thought what it would be like to experience homelessness? If so, you probably asked yourself this question: What’s the worst part about experiencing homelessness?
Maybe it’s the fact that there is no “place” to call home… nowhere to go home to because there is no home. That might feel a little like trying to play baseball without a “home” plate. Where are you suppose to run to? There’s no way to score? What’s the point of playing anymore? Maybe it’s about the missing “place.”
Maybe it’s the fact that everyday necessities are not readily available. The “things” needed to be comfortable or even survive are daily struggles. Maybe it’s the physical “things” that are so vital to physical existence.
Maybe it’s that it might feel like you are all alone in a crowded world. Or maybe having to flee, with just the clothes on your back, from an abusive and controlling relationship.There is no one to comfort you, guide you, assist you, or be your advocate. Maybe it’s about a lack of intimate connection with “people”.
Maybe the worst part about experiencing homelessness has to do with people, or places, or things. Maybe.
Not too long ago I was walking in downtown Chicago and I saw a young girl sitting on the sidewalk on Michigan Ave. next to the enormous 100-story Hancock Building. What really caught my attention was the sign she had made. It stopped me in my tracks and I just had to strike up a conversation to hear her story.
Her sign addressed this very question… from her perspective the worst part about experiencing homelessness was how it affected her emotionally… how it made her feel about herself… how it affected her feeling of self-worth or lack of it. The word that jumped off the cardboard sign and hit me right in the face was “HUMILIATING”.
It made her feel “humiliated” to have to make a sign and ask for assistance. It made her feel “humiliated” to be on a public sidewalk trying to just get someone to make eye contact and confirm for her that she still existed much less stop and carry on a conversation as though she might have something worth listening to… it made her feel “humiliated” not to live a normal life instead of begging for attention and sleeping in a shelter.
I went to get her a hot bowl of meat and rice and we had a conversation. She had a name… and a story… and had just lost a job… and was looking for work… and ran out of savings so she was now living in a shelter. Now she needed help just to do her laundry so she could have clean clothes to pursue a job, or two, to get back on her feet and back into an apartment.
I’m sure there is a lot more to her story that she didn’t share. I didn’t want to pry. I told her a little about myself. I prayed for her and she was so appreciative, not simply for the meal, but for the conversation with her and with God.
As it was time to leave, I asked her if I might take a picture of it so I could share her perspective with my friends. She gave me her consent and I walked away with a picture of her sign in my phone and a better picture about homelessness in my mind.
As I walked to the corner and turned around I could see her and the Hancock Building behind her. I thought of how small we all feel in comparison to that enormous structure piercing the Chicago skyline. Then I tried to get into her shoes about how small “homelessness” was making her feel. It was painful to think about.
But for those few minutes, Jennifer felt like a full person… fully capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation… sharing a story worth telling because someone affirmed that she was a person worth hearing.
Then I had this little thought… What if listening is all it takes from me to help ease the pain of someone’s paralyzing humiliation… which may-be, for that one person, the worst part of experiencing homelessness?
Would you pray this prayer with me and ask God for the compassion and awareness to live it out…
“God, next time I pass by a person experiencing homelessness will you remind me that I am either draining their emotional battery or charging it! May I be one who charges it with eye contact, or an encouraging nod, and a simple smile. Help me to mentally STOP focusing on my stuff to physically STOP to create a moment that they can be heard.”
– Pastor Dan
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