Homelessness Pt. I

This semester I had the opportunity to do some service learning, which is basically volunteering for some class credit. It was an optional route, but I decided to take it. While I could've done the more "normal" thing and tutored children or adults, I decided to challenge myself and work in a homeless shelter. More specifically, I am an overnight volunteer.

My role is pretty chill. I just show up and for 13 hours I mingle with the men experiencing homelessness. I help serve dinner, get them anything they need like socks, soap or lunches for the next day and overall, I'm just there for them. It's a great experience, the stories I get to hear and the experience itself is incredibly eye opening; a new perspective. 

I recently had to interview someone about their point of view for class and she had some incredible things to share that really made me think. Given, I did give her a lot of questions, but her answers were far from what I expected. I had expected the cookie cutter answers, but got something a lot more personal and in depth. These are things I wanted to bring up because we are guilty of this, I am still guilty of this. We're guilty of creating misconceptions among our society and not looking at another's perspective.

One thing she said was that we all create our misconceptions based on our individual experience, however our experience normally comes from seeing someone who is "signing" as she called it. This is someone who has a sign, who's on the side of the street and asking for anything, whether it's food, money or just help. However, what I didn't realize before, is that not all people experiencing homelessness do this. A lot of them have jobs, have families and have lives that are just like ours. The difference is that they don't have a home or a permanent roof over their head. Yet, we assume that they all must be signing, that they're lazy and do not work hard. That they are just begging, without putting in any effort. From my experience so far, they are far from lazy and are probably some of the most hard working people I know. So those small experiences we have with people signing, is not an accurate representation of the entire population who is going through homelessness. 

 From those experiences, we label them "the homeless." But something that I found extremely important, is that homelessness is not a label. It is not a type of person and does not define someone. It is an experience; a situation that someone goes through, but it is not who they are.

I could go on and on, there's so much more to say and thoughts to share. But that could take years to write and even more years to read. Overall, I hope I've given you something to think about, some food for thought (I think that's the saying). I hope you challenge yourself as I did, go volunteer or at least try to learn... get the facts. Or even check the little things and think about your own misconceptions, perceptions and stereotypes that you have or even unknowingly encourage. 

The last thing my interviewee brought up is key. Right now, society focuses on all of our differences. But think about all the ways we are the same, be thoughtful. "Compassion, kindness and caring….everyone could use a huge dose of that."