The Need to Feel Wanted

Artwork: 

 

While driving through or walking in a city, the problem of homelessness is hard to ignore. When most people see a man sleeping on a park bench wrapped in trash bags, feelings of pity often fill our minds as we try and stick to the other side of the street. We often dismiss their humanity and ignore the ways in which we are so similar.

              My family and I attend a church in the city of Boston regularly. Because of this, encounters with the homeless
have become inevitable. As we routinely strolled past the corner of our church, our family noticed Bob. Bob sat habitually between the massive granite front steps of our church, silently smiling. His auburn-grey hair tossing in a heap around his head. I don’t exactly remember ever introducing ourselves to Bob. I don’t remember a Sunday without his friendly waves and the gentle gestures of our small talk before we headed up the church steps. Bob was different than what most people seemed to think of the homeless. He never shook a cup filled with coins, and never asked for change. He drew attention to himself nonetheless. In bright red sharpie, the words Smile: It’s the law were etched on a worn piece of laminated paper. A shell filled with birdseed, a crate, a small box, and a long wood cane accompanied him wherever he went.

              One Sunday many years ago in mid-December, as our Sunday School class was brainstorming ideas of ways we could give back to the community we lived in, someone shouted “lets do something for Bob!” for Bob had befriended almost every family that passed by that corner on a regular basis. We all pitched in and bought Bob a sleeping bag and a Stop & Shop gift card. When he opened the gift, his eyes were flooded and gratitude as a smile spread across his face. It was the most genuine thank you I had ever seen. I could tell that the gift held something much greater than just the fulfillment of a small material need. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what that was.

 

People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.

                            -Sheila McKechnie

 

              Bob noticed a lot of things other people didn’t. He said, while speaking to my mother and I one Sunday morning that watching everyone walking around the city, it hurt him to see all of the people with their heads down and in a hurry. He wished people were more aware of what the world was like outside of their scattered busy frenzies. He wanted to give everyone perspective to see outside of their own situation.

Often we have an inaccurate image of who the homeless are. We picture them as the mentally ill, the drug addicts, and the social outcasts. The majority of homelessness is simply caused by the lack of affordable housing and the lack of affordable health care. Most people fail to realize that the greatest hardship of being homeless is the feeling of being unwanted.

I realized that we had made him feel like a part of society again, and showed him that he was an appreciated human being. The homeless do have material needs. But it is so much more important to fulfill those psychological needs, and the need for social connection. The need to know that they are humans that are a significant part of the world we live in.

 

(Photo credit: www.creativecommons.org)