I wrote a post here recently about how messy it is to be homeless. How people don't really want to get involved with the minute details of it. They'd much rather deal in statistics, reports, studies, pictures, film, documentaries, and articles. Anything - except deal with the actual people, themselves.
And, I totally understand that. I myself - although I'd been homeless a number of times - know first-hand how messy it can be; You can't have a simple conversation with a homeless person, without their whole life pouring out, as if they're bursting at the seams. Why is that? I think it's because they get so few opportunities to vent. They're used to being ignored, overlooked and bypassed. So, that - when someone actually asks how they're doing - and sticks around for the answer - they tend to let it all hang out...
Try it, sometime. Stop - and ask a homeless person how they are. I doubt seriously you'll get the standard: "I'm fine, how are you?" Not because they don't know what the standard response is, but simply because they're NOT fine, and don't really feel like lying about it. What's the point? It's a waste of time. And time - to a homeless person - is a precious commodity. It's not something to be wasted or squandered. Ask a homeless person how they're doing, and you'll get a myriad of responses. Everything except "I'm fine, how are you?" You'll get:
- "Awww.... Mannn.... I'm tired..."
- "Good, good... Can't complain..."
- "I'd be better if my worker would just call me back..."
- "Well, the Good Lord saw fit to let me wake-up this morning, so I guess I'm alright..."
- "Hungry. Say, can you spare a dollar?"
Either that, or simply a cold stare. We call it The Thousand Mile Stare - that one where they heard you, they're just trying to figure out if you want to hear the truth, or not.
And, what I'd like to say to people is this: Ask anyway. Yes, that's right - ask anyway. Because that simple acknowledgement that you presume them to live amongst the human race, without flaw or fallacy is sometimes the lifeline that they need. Smile, pretend you don't see their rags and bags, that you don't know they're miserable, cold and hungry. Let them know you know that being homeless is not contagious, even when you secretly think it is. Sit, and stay a spell, as my wise grandmother used to say. Listen. Read between the lines, if they say they're fine (which I highly doubt they will), stay that extra beat of a second, and see if they feel like elaborating. You might just find you learn something. Whereas you'll be looking for an opportunity to help them, they just might help you. Those of you who volunteer know what I'm talking about. It's not contagious, it's temporary. But, for that temporary amount of time they exist in a homeless state, a sort of limbo - a painful purgatory - they like to be reminded that life and time are marching on. They like to be treated as equals, seen as individuals. It won't hurt, you know - to give fifteen minutes of your time to hear what they have to say. Stand with them, engage and even - if you can - entertain them. Entertain their hopes, dreams and current struggles even if you can't relate. That doesn't matter. It's your effort, that counts. I promise, at the end of it - you'll still have a house, and they still won't; Because, you see - homelessness is not contagious.