Tag Archives: homelessness

Lessons Learned While Lost

When James and I were in Atlanta in May, we ran into a homeless woman. We were pacing back and forth along Peachtree Street, scanning the storefronts for the Marta station sign. We doubled back two or three times before she saw us, heads ducked over a phone screen, trying to navigate our way.

She asked if she could help us find something. And then we were off, her and I chatting away up front, James trailing behind, slinging out water bottles and necessities in a bag on his back. She asked me where we were from, how we ended up coming to Atlanta. She told me about his bright blue eyes and smiled.

We were just steps from the escalators leading down when she shared her own story—how she’d lost her apartment two months ago, how she was trying to stay positive and how her son was embarrassed about her persistence, but could we spare some money for her breakfast?

I didn’t have any cash—we were going hiking—so I apologized. She looked me in the eyes, asking if I’d buy something, if I could just get her a bagel or something to tide her over, so of course I said yes.

When we left, down a second escalator, her arms full with a hot breakfast of grits and eggs and meat, I felt good. James, though, wasn’t sure about her.

Where we live, the streets are stocked with homeless people. My father-in-law swore once he knew one of the men, that he went home each night, changed out of the ragged clothes, and slept in a warm bed with his family.

The whole ride down the escalator, onto the platform, into the train car, on the tracks, I told him it didn’t matter, really, but of course she was homeless. She asked for breakfast, for God’s sake. She would’ve moved on if I didn’t have cash.

She had so much warmth about her, a wide smile, a genuine tone. I was happy to help her. I was happy to believe that something good had come from that morning.

“Two months,” I told him. “That’s not long enough to have found a whole new job and gotten back on your feet. She needs all the strength and energy she can get and that breakfast could be what she needs to get herself up—mentally and physically—so she can get a job. My kindness might have meant the world to her today.”

He’s still not convinced, but for me, it felt so good. Because when you’re standing in front of the world, telling your story, afraid to admit that it might not be going as planned, it takes all kinds of courage to ask for help. And when you’re standing on the other side of that conversation, looking into the eyes of a stranger with a kind heart, it shakes you. It stays with you.

The problem of poverty becomes real. It becomes a woman in a white tee shirt with black sneakers. It becomes her fast clip and warm smile and appreciation over and over as you pay for her meal. It becomes the itch inside you when you wonder how she’s going to make it through tomorrow, when her stomach starts to empty and she’s not having any luck finding a job and she’s hoping someone might give her a chance.

It’s hard to ignore. It’s something we shouldn’t ignore.

Hope is not the sock that went missing in the dryer. And having a house doesn't mean having a home.

If you Google the word “homeless,” you’ll receive more than 35 million images of people wrapped up in blankets, alone or with family, huddled together for warmth. Some hold signs of promise scribbled on slabs of cardboard boxes. Others use newspaper for insulation. And others? They want to believe they are not among those 35 million images. They are not a number on an Internet search engine.

And they would be right. They are so much more than a number.

homeless, superman, cardboard sign, save the world

via weheartit.com

There are hundreds of small moments in the past in which I had given up on God. In which I had wished, so very deeply, for Him to save me or someone I love.

This is not one of those moments.

This is one of those moments in which I pray that He will continue to send me down this path. That He will help me turn my life around. A year ago, I thought I had lost hope. The other day, I realized how wrong that was. I have not lost hope. It is not the sock in an invisible shoot in the back of my dryer, banished from me for all intents and purposes. Hope was misplaced, buried under some big words like depression and anxiety.

And now, as I enter a new phase in my life in which strangers in other parts of the country become friends, I am so thankful. I’ve been saved by the existence of the Internet.

There are thousands of fallen angels in this world, and my greatest fear is not being able to save them all. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with two people who are trying to build a foundation for real change to combat homelessness. The founders of KNO Clothing wanted to give consumers an incentive to do the right thing. And it’s sad, really, that we even need an incentive. I am at a point in my life where that incentive grows smaller and smaller every day, replaced instead by the feeling I get when someone sends me a message, an e-mail, a tweet, telling me that my words changed them somehow.

If words have power, I will be a happy girl. Because words are my friends, and I can line them up and rearrange them and mold them until they give you power. Until they do what they need to do. Edit, re-write, re-edit. Until the world looks like a brighter shade of yesterday. Until the crayons have not only colored inside the lines, but outside of them too. Until all options for change are exhausted and the only thing left to do is wait.

I believe that we, the ones who have trouble coloring inside the lines, are the ones who can help these souls. These souls wandering around like nomads, looking for a place to seek refuge. And they’re not just one of the 35 million images on my computer screen. Homelessness is more than the state of losing a roof over one’s head. It’s a mindset for some people. There are so many more homeless in this world than just those identified in the statistics run by government organizations. There are those who have lost a piece of themselves, who have forgotten why they roll out of bed in the morning and shimmy into a pair of slacks and a blazer. They are the ones who eat Honey Nut Cheerios because they think it’s the right thing to do. Because their doctor said their cholesterol was too high.

I will be immeasurably happy if I can light a spark inside of them. If I can remind them how to see. Remind them where their home is. Where they live. A house is not a home. Having a house does not mean you’re not homeless. It only means you’re a little less homeless.

And all of these people have lives worth living. Ideas worth spreading. Passions worth sharing.

All of these people have the ability to make our world better. They’re just looking for a chance. And we can be that for them.