SoulPancake does a segment called “Stories from the Street” that highlights a person who is currently homeless. Between this and the segments that my job does, where we interview pastors who work with the homeless, I have begun to see them by a different light. Of course, I know that the homeless are people with feelings and a soul created in the likeness of God. That’s not what I’m learning. I’m learning how much my indifference hurts when I refuse to acknowledge them. People are so uncomfortable when they see a person on the street, and often act as though that person is invisible to avoid confrontation. Don’t get me wrong, I think a person should always be safe and aware of their surroundings. But I have heard stories time and time again that these people tell of being ignored and that it is more devastating than anything else they encounter.
We had a pastor come into the studio recently who does an outdoor mass in a downtown parking lot so that the homeless of the area will feel welcome and comfortable enough to attend the service. He shared their feelings of loneliness, saying that these men and women are surrounded by people all day long, and yet at the end of the day not one person has looked them in the eye. I can’t imagine what that would feel like, or how many days in a row some of them must go through that. How completely alone you would feel.
Over the past few months, when I see someone begging on the median near my car, I have made an effort to smile and wave my hand in acknowledgement. I don’t always do it, sometimes I’m too selfish or too nervous. But any time I have ever given them a hello, they simply smile back. They don’t accost me, they don’t come bang on my window, they don’t chase me down the street. There is such fear in this interaction that is so often unwarranted. But we need to remember that charity doesn’t always mean something monetary, it often means loving.