What does homeless look like

For a town our size I’m always amazed at how many people get hit by a train.  That may sound weird but it seems like I’m reading in the paper every other week about another person who was killed on the train track.  Do they not hear it coming for peets sake?  And why were they on the track to begin with?  If you really need to use the train track to be your guide at least walk along beside it, not on it. Geez.

About a month or so ago I read yet another story of a man who was hit by an on coming train.  I went on to read that the man was a regular at the local shelter.  I’m ashamed to admit that my gut reaction was “oh, he was homeless.”  It was as if knowing that he might have been homeless explained why he was hit by a train.  It’s so easy to dismiss the homeless in our community and write them off as koo-koo or an addict as a way to brush the problem under the rug.  I’m going out on a limb here to admit how I really feel about the homeless.  I have conflicting feelings of apathy, sadness and helplessness that I struggle with.  I see them wandering the streets and my heart is torn in half.  Half of my heart aches for them and wonders how in the world they got to such a desperate place in life.  That part of my heart wants to buy them a meal.  The other part of my heart is hardened.  I wonder if they would even be able to hold down a job or stay in an apartment if one was provided.  I never give money out any more because I’m afraid they will turn around and use it to get drunk or high.  That part of my heart asks the other half of my heart… so what if you buy them a meal?  Is that really going to help in the long run?  What can you possibly do to make a difference?  Nothing.  Leave them alone.

The next week I read more about the man hit by the train.  He was my age and when he was young he competed in the Special Olympics.  Knowing that he competed in the Special Olympics made him so much more human to me.  At some point in his life this man had a support system, people who loved him and helped him enter and compete in the Special Olympics.  Obviously they felt him worthy enough for such an endeavour and encouraged him to be the best he could be.  What happened between being in the Special Olympics and being a regular client of a homeless shelter?  I have no idea but it made me realize…who am I to judge why someone is on the street?  Some may be mentally handicapped and unable to care for themselves, some may be regular folks who were one paycheck away from losing their apartment, some are parents who don’t have a family support system to fall back on when times get tough.  It doesn’t really matter what brought them to a place of desperation, what matters is that they are still children of God and I still need to treat them that way.


This summer Addison stormed out of the room and threw himself on the floor.  He was pouting and groaning about not being able to pass a level on Super Mario Galaxy.  Basically, his world was coming to an end and he could not go on because he couldn’t get past a level on a Wii game.  My 7 year old was throwing a fit over a Wii game.  No sir, I’m not having that.  I told him to take a break from Wii and that we were going to rethink what it means to have everything we could ever want.  We live in a big, beautiful house.  Our pantry is overflowing with snacks and we have toys coming out our ears.  We have no idea what it means to go without.  I know he’s only 7 (8 is only a few weeks away), but this was the perfect opportunity for him to start learning that the world does not revolve around him.

As children become self-aware their world starts with them and expands out from there.  They become aware of their family then introduce friends and other loved ones into their little universe.  All of those people who care for them and love them and play with them revolve around them like planets around the sun (in their little minds).  Slowly over time they start to understand that their actions effect others and they learn lessons of right and wrong but they are still the center of all things important and expect to be treated accordingly.  This behavior continues through the teenage years and it’s up to the loving adults in their life to teach them that they indeed, are not the center of the universe.  Lessons in self-esteem and positive self-image are important but it’s equally important to show them that there is more in this world than their own selfish wants and desires.  This, of course, is my own observation.  I’m not a professional but it doesn’t take a PhD to see that kids are selfish and it’s our job as parents to teach them empathy, love and respect for others.

After the Wii outburst I made an executive decision.  We were going to start volunteering at the local shelter once a month by helping serve lunch.  Our first volunteer day is this weekend.  I don’t think he is very excited about it, but that’s just too bad.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

11 Responses

  1. crazytraintotinkytown

    I think on a day to day basis we become immune because of our busy lives, however, when I moved to Turkey that was indeed an eye opener for me and made me realise how much we really do take for granted

  2. Keya

    I think it is so inspiring that you write this was such candor. I was always a bit double minded when it came to homeless people, that is, until I moved to my current residence, I live in a neighborhood with many vacant buildings and lots of homeless people. And we do this by choice. We use to live in beautiful suburb in a brand new house, and funny thing because of the housing crisis many of the folks that use to be my neighbors in the suburbs are homeless now. Its easy to feel like there is nothing you can or should do, but there is always something. You seeing those homeless people hit by a train is part of your wake up call to re-evaluate what you can do to help. My family living where we do I think is our wake up call to help. We all play a part in either the growth and development of our communities or degradation of them. Its always a choice we make. And we do it just one little act at a time. Thanks for sharing.

  3. christine

    I take my kids to help at a food pantry, which also has plenty of other services. Before the pantry opens, all new volunteers are required to take a tour through the neighborhood. Volunteers are shown the houses where many of the customers will come from. They are told that people end up in this state for a variety of reasons. And they are told to in no way show pity when the customers come through. This could very well be the only place where some of them will see a smile all week. It was most certainly eye-opening. It is so very important to include children in acts of service. Besides food pantries and homeless shelters, there are so, so many ways to do it. Raking leaves for a widow. Making meals for a family in need.
    You’re right. It’s up to parents to show their kids that the world does not revolve around one person. We should continue to look for ways to be blessings to others, and this teaching should begin early. Good for you, taking steps to teach your kids these important lessons.

  4. Ali @ WHOLEistically Fit

    Hi, we’re neighbors over on the SITS Girls Saturday Sharefest :). I really appreciate how you write with such authenticity about this issue. I think many people would not want to admit their true thoughts/feelings about persons experiencing homelessness, though I think many people share these same views and beliefs. I think it’s so wonderful that you are opening your heart to this community of people and taking action to help out AND including your family in the process!! That is so awesome and I hope it goes well.

  5. DaniMae

    I give homeless people money. I don’t care what they use it for. If I give it to them it’s really none of my business what they use it for, and if they use it for drugs or alcohol then that means they didn’t have to rob anyone and possibly hurt someone to get it. People are homeless for all different reasons. I lived out of my car and ate at a soup kitchen before. Even after being in that community I usually still think drug addict when I see a homeless person. Stereotypes are usually made for a reason.

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