Willing Hands

Posted: March 16, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

I spent much of this afternoon doing routine maintenance on my computer: deleting outdated and unneeded files, defragging the drives and so on.

Despite my current distaste for what is happening in the news, I had a news channel on – then I heard that it was Palm Sunday. I had completely forgotten. It must’ve had something to do with the time change last week and the fact that I haven’t been able to get my "internal" clock readjusted quite yet.  

Palm Sunday.

Just the words brought back childhood memories. The whole story of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem a week before Easter Sunday. The crowds had been singing and shouting "Hosanna" and waving palm branches, which they lay down in the path as He entered the city.

Then from somewhere in the recesses of my brain the symbolism of the Palm branch surfaced: triumph and victory.

Later in the afternoon as I stepped out to get some fresh air and a cup of hot chocolate, I spotted a gentleman on the other side of the street walking and wearing a rather large backpack. In his left hand he was carrying a small plastic bag that appeared to have some clothing in it. Homeless.

I thought again about today being Palm Sunday. A day of triumphant entry into the city; into the community; into society.

I can think of a number of homeless who would love to be allowed re-entry into the community; back into society. Yet, because of the stigmas associated with homelessness, many of those folks find it near to impossible to even get a foot in the door.

It isn’t as though they are trouble makers. They aren’t drunkards or substance abusers. They don’t have criminal backgrounds. They are willing to work. Some of them have full time employment. Others are consigned to living on fixed incomes.

However, because they are homeless, they are often times viewed with suspicion and mistrust. The so called "conventional" wisdom that says if a person is homeless then that person must’ve done something to have caused their own homelessness, forestalls their ability to become a part of the community. It causes many in the community to "keep a safe distance." And all over one word: homeless.

It seems strange to me that the word homeless has so many different connotations. People associate it with "winos," drunkards, sluggards, derelicts, "lazy bums," and entire slew of other such adjectives. Yet, the word itself simply means: someone without a home – or more accurately – someone without a residence.

All of the other adjectives are social impartations – which are not in any way all inclusive of persons who are homeless.

Yes, there are those homeless who do indeed fit the stereotype; who have, through their own actions or inactions, become homeless. There are – as peculiar as it seems to me – those homeless who have deliberately chosen homelessness as a preferred "lifestyle." But not every homeless person is the epitome of the stereotype.

To even imply that because a person is homeless that they are lazy; or a drunk; or unsavory is like saying that just because a person goes to McDonald’s that they’re a Big Mac. It’s skewed reasoning. And when you hold it up to the light of day, you can see just how flawed that reasoning really is.

So many people, however, are unwilling to examine homelessness in the light of day. They are comfortable with their misconceptions. They are content to view the homeless through the eyes of prejudice and suspicion. They are reluctant to accept the possibility that they may not be all that different than a person who is homeless – except for the difference of being housed or non-housed.

On the other hand, there are also many "regular" folks who seek ways to help the homeless. They are more than willing to reach out a hand of kindness and compassion. Something within them compels them to be doers; some seed of humanity. They do what they can, when they can.

There are others, who would like to be doers. They just don’t know how to help. They are unsure of what it needed; what they can do to make a difference. Subsequently, they are often times left on the "sidelines."

The more I speak with non-homeless persons and share with them the plight of the homeless and the many things that I endured as a person who was "residentially displaced," the more I’m convinced that as a community, we can have an impact on homelessness. We can significantly reduce the numbers of people who call the streets of our community "home."

It isn’t going to be easy. But then again, nothing worth accomplishing ever is.

It’s going to take more than just willing hearts. It’s going to take willing hands. But I’m certain that once we begin to see the fruits of our labors, we’ll all find that it was definitely worth it.

Who knows – maybe one day soon, we’ll all be able to wave palm branches of triumph and victory.

  1. I was speaking with someone yesterday and I used the word ‘homeless’. He said, “I really hate that word. ‘Home’ is a concept. It’s much more accurate to say ‘houseless’.”

    It reminded me of a story I had heard last year.

    A reporter was interviewing a ‘houseless’ woman and her 8 year old daughter.

    The reporter asked the young girl “How does it feel to be homeless?” She replied, “We have a home. We just need a house to put it in.”

    Out of the mouth of babes.


    Thank you for sharing the story.

    Isn’t it amazing how clearly the young can see, when we adults often times have our “view of life” obscurred?

    Sadly, however, it doesn’t matter how “politically correct” we try to be when referring to those who are without a place to live. It will take nothing less than being “morally correct” before we, as a nation, can make a difference.

    You’re right though… out of the mouths of babes.

    – m –

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