Before I continue writing about my time at the Franciscan Outreach shelter and of those struggling with homelessness, I think I should be honest and say that I haven’t always seen the homeless with such empathetic eyes.
I’ve walked passed. I’ve rolled my windows up on the exit ramp. I’ve lied about not having any spare change. I’ve made assumptions about whether they’re scammers or drug users, or just lazy people not willing to work. I’ve followed the “look to see if they have nice shoes to determine if they really need help or not” advice.
I’ve ignored. I’ve avoided. I’ve judged.
But the one thing I had never done..I had never actually taken the time to talk or listen to the story of anyone who was, or has been, in the situation of homelessness..
In hindsight, maybe that was for the better..Because even had I spoken to a homeless person at that particular point in my life and experience, maybe I still wouldn’t have been able to step outside myself and into their shoes; maybe I wouldn’t have talked about anything past the superficial level; maybe I would have still been too proud to think I could have anything in common with this person; maybe at the end of that conversation I still wouldn’t have been able to sympathize. Maybe I would have still judged.
I don’t doubt that I would have eventually reached a point of 180° shifted perception through my time at the shelter; but it was the book Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux that expedited and expanded my understanding and compassion for the homeless.
To read this, it allowed me to step into the mind and emotions of someone’s first-hand experience of going from a life of affluence, family and pride to bankruptcy, loneliness, depression, alcohol dependency and eventually homelessness. It shined a light in every corner and aspect of being homeless that I would have never otherwise known. When I finished the book and looked up from the pages, I saw the homeless and their world, their lives, and their stories through different eyes.
This post is not just a reading recommendation, but a necessary mention as with nearly every person I meet in the shelter and see on the streets — this book and Richard’s recollections are a constant reference in my mind.
Now every time I see a hand shaking an old cup, asking for spare change, I think of the humiliation, shame and degradation Richard said he felt every time he had to beg for money.
Every time I see influenced movements and bloodshot eyes, I think of Richard and his friends’ attempts to find anything that will block out, numb, or rescue them from their life and that internal feeling of worthlessness – even if just for a moment.
Every time I see an article of dirtied military apparel, I think of Richard’s newfound veteran friends that served this country but were never given proper treatment or support for the PTSD, depression or other debilitating side-effects war has on the mind and spirit.
Every time I see a homeless youth, I think of the teenage girl Richard had met, whose only option to stop the sexual abuse she endured for years was to run away from home..
And the greatest difference in my sight now is, every time I see a homeless person all alone….I see myself. I see with humbling clarity that with all of the moments of financial and emotional struggles I’ve had in my life, the only difference between that person begging on the sidewalk and myself is that I am lucky to have been born into a family and support system that have helped me through those times. They were not so lucky.
The difference is not always in the individual, but often in the support and love which surrounds that individual
With my since opened eyes and mind, there are two things I can tell you for certain about every homeless person you cross on the street:
1) Every one has a story of the pain, the illness, the desperation, and the reasons that lead them to be who they are and where they are now.
2) What shoes they have on their feet will tell you nothing of that story.
Visit http://www.breakfastatsallys.com for more