Have you ever seen someone bundled up in several comforters on a cold morning begging for a cup of coffee to warm up? Or have you ever seen someone sleeping under a bridge or in a doorway in rags? Or – one that most people who have seen this wish they never had – have you ever seen human feces laying in the middle of the sidewalk on the hot pavement?
Unfortunately I’ve seen all of these things. Working in downtown Atlanta for the last six years has exposed me to the inconvenient truth of how the homeless suffer each and every day. I’ll be honest, I used to downright ignore the homeless and pretend they weren’t talking to me when they were begging for change. Growing up in New York as a little girl, I was taught to be tough and look down when walking, never looking anyone in the eye when they were trying to talk to me. I’ve carried that mentality with me throughout my entire life. When I first saw that feces on the pavement, I was disgusted and outraged. I questioned who in their right mind could have done that. But as time progressed I started answering that question with ‘a desperate person, that’s who.’
Something has shifted in me and I’m not that tough little girl that blatantly ignores others anymore. Now, I look around me and wonder what I would do if I had to walk a mile in a homeless person’s shoes. Instead of turning my nose up at them, now my heart aches when I see someone pushing their life’s belongings in a shopping cart down Boulevard.
There used to be a homeless man that would stand outside my building and ask for money – or even ask for my personal travel mug of coffee. One day last year, I passed by him like I always did, shaking my head saying ‘no, not today.’ But this time was different. I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness for him. So, I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around and handed him a $5 bill. I didn’t feel good about it afterwards either – and not because I was worried he was going to buy drugs or alcohol with it, but because that $5 is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. My head was buzzing with questions. Where’s he going to end up the next day? What’s he going to do for food or shelter? How is he going to survive? I thought a lot about this particular homeless man to the point where I was brought to tears. This world can be such a cruel and unjust place for some people, and I couldn’t see any positive side of the situation.
As I’ve been reading more nonfiction books and articles about animal cruelty and human rights, I’ve learned that you can do one of two things when presented with upsetting facts; you can get depressed and mope about the bad affairs occurring in the world (which is exactly what I did when encountering this homeless man), or you can take a stand and do something about it.
Which is exactly what Food Not Bombs is doing – they are taking action and feeding the homeless, helping them out a little bit each week. My friend recently wrote a wonderful blog post about this organization, which you can find here on her site Favor Freedom. She describes her experience of volunteering with Food Not Bombs and her awakening to the issues of homelessness. This organization hit a soft spot with me because they feed the homeless all vegan and vegetarian meals. Groups like this one are performing amazing selfless acts of kindness all the time. Reading Favor Freedom’s blog post made me pause to reflect on how I can help the homeless, whether they be human or not.
Right around the same time of discovering Food Not Bombs through my friend’s site, I also found out about My Dog is My Home, thanks to Our Hen House. This blog is dedicated to telling the stories of the human-animal bond between the homeless and their pets. There are so many touching stories on this blog that showed me that the homeless and their pets are just like me and Dali and Scotch. I would do anything for my sweet dog and cat, and so will the homeless. They will forego a place to live if it means they will be with their animals, their loved ones. I honestly can say I would do the same because life without my girls is no life at all. After reading these stories, I’ve decided that it’s time to stand up for the less fortunate and treat them like fellow Earthlings.
Here’s a poem I wrote when I first started working downtown that’s about a homeless woman on Ellis Street:
There’s treacherous turmoil written all over her beautiful face
Yet she sits on the scorching sidewalk with such poise and grace
Shoeless, filthy and only her suitcase by her side
She’s fearlessly contemplating how to stay alive
Who’s this mystery woman alone on Ellis Street?
What brought her to this dirty place, in the deadly heat?
Was she a successful businesswoman months ago?
Or a drug abuser that hit an all-time low?
How did she slip and fall among the homeless each day?
What’s stopping her from finding a home, a place to stay?
Embarrassed for her, strangers avert their judging eyes
They dismiss her so not to witness her pitiful demise
No passersby offer her a single slice of hope
They make the mere assumption that, on her own, she can cope
She pays no attention to the soulless people walking by
Instead she gazes off with a sudden spark in her eye
Standing up tall, she snaps her bags in her right hand
She quickly walks toward her own destiny, an unknown land
This mysterious woman is never again seen on Ellis Street
It’s solely hopeful that she conquered her own defeat