Either we dwell in homes or we do not. Who is homeless; what is homelessness? Homeless is personal. Human beings, who for complex reasons as varied as they are, find themselves living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in parked automobiles. Families huddle together in despair seeing no means of escape, no way to go home again or create a new home. Homelessness is a global policy issue with which we have had to grapple since the beginning of civilization. Refugees in makeshift camps, fleeing from civil wars, drug wars and immigration wars. We know we have to do better, but solutions do not come easily.
“There but for the grace of God go I.” God or no god, the wolves of hunger, poverty and displacement are not interested in religious hair-splitting. We all see ourselves in the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and the wretched refuse of every teeming shore. No one yearns to be homeless. We turn off the news feeds, get another cup of coffee and snuggle up with a good book. Someone should do something about this.
No matter our culture, ideology, gender, ethnicity or age, we all recognize places that are not home, places that do not have even the most basic necessities that adequate shelter should provide. Imagine waking up dirty, hungry and ashamed on sun-baked concrete, wrapped in sodden cardboard. No bathroom, no kitchen, no hope. This is reality for many people, including children who have no choice in how they ended up this way. Many manage to hold on to jobs and get their children to school. We hear about them and wonder: How did they get this way if they possess that kind of tenacity? Many of us also wonder: Will I run out of grace one day, to join the huddled, faceless masses?
Life-changing movements occur in everyone’s lives. They unquestionably bring anticipation, uncertainty and a force that can strangle any hopes we have in our unknown futures. Tangible fear is a pestilence, a common weed. It thrives in any environment, taking over like an invasive species. To survive, it must turn on its host. Fear manifests itself into anger, bitterness, confusion and paralysis. When watered with self-doubt, fear assumes super-powers. It must be eradicated; it must be supplanted with something tougher.
Hope might be that tougher thing. Empathy is surely another. Both are powerful enough to attack fear’s root system. Most of us have some inkling of what it is like to run scared. Hope reminds us there are better destinations ahead. But hope for the homeless can be a nicety that’s as hard to find as running water. Empathy reminds us to walk a mile in another’s shoes, even when the other is barefoot. Both hope and empathy are vital carry-ons for the journeys ahead of us all. Journeys take us away from home, return us to familiar doorsteps and perhaps, lead us to create homes for others.
“It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”
Henry David Thoreau