Hope for Homelessness


I had been to New York City before, enough times to consider myself more knowledgeable than the average tourist. After all, I have seen the Empire State Building, been to Times Square, and walked through Central Park. Hey, I can even work the subway system. I thought that I knew NYC.

I didn’t. New York City is more than beautiful clothes and people, as I quickly discovered during a trip there for serving the homeless. The trip was undoubtedly an eye-opener about the degree of homelessness and also, poignantly, about myself.

There are more than 38,000 people in homeless shelters in New York City. That number excludes those too pained, proud, or unable to come to shelters. Even frugal estimates put the actual number much higher than 38,000, because for an astonishing amount of people, being homeless is a way of life. There are those who manage to live on the streets for 20 years. They survive there. A woman from the Coalition for the Homeless bluntly reminded me that these people are just like those people with homes. They don’t want, say, sandwiches from service groups at 3 o’clock in the morning – who doesn’t want their sleep?

Equally distressing is the age of the average homeless person: 9 years old.  Children do not fit into our stereotype of homelessness – they are not in their forties, male, and are generally not dirty. While I was serving in a soup kitchen, a mother, her young son, and 2-year-old daughter walked in. It was the girl’s birthday. She was wearing a pink princess dress, clean, white sneakers, and had her hair tied in bows. Never would I have guessed that every night she was in need of a place to sleep. But her family ate every scrap of food, quietly thanked the volunteers for the girl’s birthday present (a stuffed animal), and left as if they were never there.

These are people who deserve to be acknowledged. It is impossible to give to everyone, but it possible, and comparatively easy, to recognize them. I gave extra food to a homeless man in horrible conditions. Yes, he was intensely gratefully for the food, but he was even more surprised that I even walked over to him. We need to appreciate these people’s existence, even though the person standing next to the high-rise building, asking for money in the T station, carrying all their meager belongings around, is not a pretty tourist site. Recently, a proposed bill in New York City banned anyone from sleeping on church steeps to keep the city looking clean and attractive. It only takes one trip to NYC to see that church steeps are generously populated as beds for homeless. The bill never passed, but the homeless are commonly treated with such stigma. But homelessness is not an individual’s problem; it is society’s responsibility to be help.


Featured picture was taken from user SamPac on www.flickr.com which is permitted according to the Creative Commons license. The original picture can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/68593573@N00/322639083/.