Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Many Faces of the Homelessness

The group is ready to go. We have our backpacks full of lunches and our hearts ready to talk. We are standing in the middle of a park where many homeless have gathered to sleep for the night. A strange silence comes over the youth as they experience an equal amount of fear and excitement at the prospect of approaching the homeless.
“What does a homeless person look like?”
This is my favorite question. Now, I won’t pretend for even a minute to be an expert on homelessness in Philadelphia. I have only worked for CSM for a month and half, and my understanding of what it means to be homeless is challenged daily.
So I ask the youth what it is they think a homeless person looks like. They offer descriptions such as worn clothing, poor hygiene, and carrying luggage. Now these answers are not necessarily wrong, these characteristics often accompany the homeless who sleep out in the park.
But these descriptions are missing something.
When you truly look at a homeless person, you don’t see their worn clothing, plastic bags, or even smell their body odor. When you truly look at a homeless person you see the smile on their face that reflects gratefulness even for the smallest things in life. You see the tears in their eyes as they grieve the losses they have experiences. You see the cascade of emotions that makes a person human. But the youth don’t know that yet. They will soon.
So the group sets out and approaches the first homeless person they see. The youth struggle to find their voice, but soon they discover that this homeless person has a name just like them. The youth begin to share their life experiences and this homeless person begins to share his. And portrayed with these life experiences are the emotions that accompany them. Before we know it 45 minutes have passed. As the conversation begins to wrap up and the students ask their new friend if they can pray together.
You see the biggest thing that people have in common is the emotions that they have felt. And if the youth, even for a moment, can begin to see the emotions of a man living on the streets, will no longer feel as though they are superior to that homeless person. Often looking into the eyes of the homeless we can begin to see a reflection of ourselves. We have felt the same joys and pains.
So what DOES a homeless person REALLY look like?
Well, when it comes down to it, he looks just like you.

- Katie, CSM Philadelphia Summer 2012 City Host

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