Helping the homeless is tough. I have never really been homeless. There were a few times in life, prior to owning a truck camper, when I slept in my car or truck. And I’ve bounced between a few friends’ houses in between a move of my own from time to time.
But I have never been homeless.
Without experience in life it is hard to empathize with others. Empathy, putting ourselves in the shoes of others, is easier to do when we have some gateway experience into their lives.
- Experienced the loss of a loved one, you’re able to relate to other people who are going through loss.
- Gone through foreclosure or bankruptcy, you’re able to relate to others who are struggling financially.
- Won a prestigious award, competition or event, you’re able to relate to others who are experiencing joy in their success.
It usually takes experience to bring us into other people’s little worlds.
A Judgmental Past
That’s what makes helping the homeless so difficult for me. Not only have I never been homeless. But also I’ve been quite judgmental toward people who are.
I’ve gone through phases in life of which you might relate. The “get off your butt and go get a job” phase. I would think it, but never say it. At least I had tact in the moment. But it made me no less guilty, or helpful for that matter. In fact, the longer I felt such way toward homelessness the harder it became later in life to accept them as human beings.
We tend to assign people identities, judgments if you will, based on external circumstance. It’s well known that our teenage years, while perhaps the most formative of our adult lives, are also our most judgmental. But looking back on those years sets a pattern for our later prejudices.
How does what a person is wearing impact our opinion of them? Do they talk have a particular accent? OK, throw them in that category. Are they living with some disability or health issue like obesity or diabetes? Shouldn’t they control their lifestyle better?
We do it all the time. We assign the value of a person based on external factors. Unless we try to understand who they are as people and the magnificent story of their life then we miss out on truly identifying them as human beings.
We also miss out on identifying their needs.
Helping The Homeless
As we’ve traveled thousands upon thousands of miles we have come across hundreds of homeless people. We tend to stay out of cities and areas of high population. But you’ll find that people are homeless pretty much everywhere.
For a while we did what we trained ourselves to do as children. We’d look the other way. Maybe, if we were in a particular mood, we’d make a comment about the person or the sign in their hand. But we did not do much by way of helping the homeless.
And it’s hard to fathom helping people sometimes.
That’s the whole purpose of this journey for us from Alaska to Argentina. We’re trying to force ourselves into situations that bring about creative ways in which we can interact with other human beings to identify some need we help to resolve. Then we share it with you in hopes that you’ll do the same (even if it is to a much smaller scale).
The opening line in the movie “Crash” says:
“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”
We have chosen to intentionally “crash” ourselves into the lives of every homeless person we meet as we travel. It’s ambitious and naive at the same time to think we can make a difference in helping the homeless.
But at every opportunity we see to help someone, we’ve committed ourselves to doing just that. So we’ve created “crash bags” to distribute to homeless people we come across. We fill them with snacks and a little note letting them know that they are loved.
We are committed to always carrying “crash bags” with us. We hand them out at every chance we get. When we run out of food in which to fill them, we buy more. We don’t count the cost of filling the bags. We just make sure that we never run out.
It’s become part of who we are. It’s part of our identity, so to speak.
Conduits of Love
Of course we feel overwhelmed when we visit a city like Portland or Seattle. These cities are flush with a homeless population that exceeds our ability to even make a dent. So even though we just pass through, we do what we can when we’re stopped at a red light or leaving a grocery store. We try, and will continue, to do our part to connect with other human beings wherever they are.
We have grown to appreciate the tremendous blessings bestowed upon us in life. The giving of others, well before our trip, fueled our desire to commit our lives to helping other human beings. As people support us, we pour their blessings upon us directly into the lives of those we reach.
In some profound way we’re connecting strangers to stranger. We become conduits of love.
Committing Our Hearts
We never post pictures of us helping the homeless. In fact, it is hard to even share our commitment to helping the homeless. It feels self-serving in some ways, though our intentions are just to share the simple ways to make a difference in the lives of other people as you travel.
But I can share that outside of a Wal Mart in St. George, Utah we met a young woman named Cybil and her three year old son Aspen. Cybil told me that she made sure he always had food, as though I was judging her. I assured her that I was not judging her. And though she asked for money, we gave her a sandwich and a box of “healthy” fruit snacks for Aspen to enjoy. She was, of course, grateful.
I can also tell you that we gave Dan two sandwiches and a bag of chips in Twin Falls, Idaho. He was camped outside a gas station and held a sign indicating he was an Army vet. Without going down that rabbit hole, I could sense he was one of many homeless vets in need. I shook his hand and didn’t ask any questions. He too was grateful.
One man in Las Vegas started our unconditional service to helping the homeless. Las Vegas, as a city, is full of people in need. But this man prompted our attention to purchase a sandwich and fruit while we were grocery shopping for ourselves. By the time we came out of the store he was long gone. But we feel it was the act of committing our hearts to help that meant the most in the moment.
From then on we carried “Crash Bags” with us.
Giving as Natural as Breathing
It doesn’t take much to help the homeless. We don’t believe in giving them cash, for a variety of reasons. The foremost reason is that we’ve come to believe that money does not solve human problems. Humans solve human problems.
But it does take a few dollars and a couple minutes of your time to buy and distribute a meal to a homeless person. We don’t count the cost of giving. When we buy groceries we don’t even separate the expense in bill. We will continue to give food to homeless people we meet because we believe it is what we are called to do as we travel.
Confronting our own judgments and stereotypes is hard at times. Maybe it is one of the hardest things to do in life. But if we can start where we feel we have the least ability to empathize with someone then maybe our giving is about us as much as others. Maybe we can break our own bad habits and find that giving becomes as natural as breathing.
If you would be willing and able to help us help others along our journey we would appreciate your generosity!