It’s been some time since I’ve had to sleep outside as one of San Luis Obispo’s homeless. Needless to say, I’m counting my blessings. And, there aren’t many nights, as I crawl into my bed, when I don’t find myself thinking about the some of the homeless I know who are still having to sleep tucked away in some nook or cranny of the community. I’m always worried that something untoward may happen to them out there while they sleep.
I don’t have the opportunity to interact with many of the homeless who I became friends with while I was one of SLO’s homeless population as often as I used to. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about that – almost as though I’ve abandoned them. Yet, I know they’re happy for me and don’t begrudge me the transition.
Back then, we interacted almost daily. Now – because, like so many other folks, I’m busy trying to keep a roof over my head – I find that those friends and I only get to speak with each other sporadically. But, they are always in my thoughts nonetheless.
Most of them have my telephone number but don’t have cell phones of their own. This means that I have no way of getting a hold of them unless I leave a message for them at either the homeless shelter or the day center. Subsequently, I generally have to wait for them to call me from a payphone. And, although I’m always happy to hear from one of them, they are often times reluctant to call because they’re worried that they’ll be bothering me – despite my assurance to them that they aren’t and are free to call at any time.
In their eyes, I’m now a "regular" person – whatever that may or may not mean. But, I don’t really feel like a "regular" person. In fact, I don’t feel all that different than I did when I was homeless. But then again, I don’t feel all that much different than I did before I found myself homeless. I pretty much feel the way I always have.
To be sure, I didn’t pass through homelessness completely unscathed. There is some emotional and psychological scarring which has occurred. Most of those scars were caused by "regular" members of the community; folks who saw me as some type of lower form of life simply because at that time in my life I just happened to be homeless.
On the other hand, it’s quite possible that had there not been members of my community who were able to show me compassion and kindness, the scars might be a considerably deeper – and more noticeable. I wish there had been more like them. It would have made the burdens less weighty to bear. But then again, it’s the quality and not the quantity that matters.
As I sit here thinking about all of these things I wonder…
How often do we truly consider the quality of our own personal characters?
When we see a homeless person, do we allow our hearts to move us to compassionate action? Or, do we avert our eyes?
When we see a homeless person digging though a trash can looking for aluminum cans and plastic bottles for recycling; or hunting for something to eat, do we feel a need to do the right thing? Or, do we shake our heads in disgust?
When we see a person standing on some corner holding a sign made of cardboard, do we make a gesture of kindness and give them a dollar or two – even if it means we have to go without a cup of designer coffee for the day? Or, do we deliberately look the other way, and with pursed lips, pretend that the person isn’t there?
When we see a homeless mother and her children trudging along with all of their worldly belongings, do we ask ourselves what we can do to intervene? Or, do we automatically assume that the welfare system will take care of them?
On those hot summer nights, or on those cold winter evenings, when our day is over and we’re sitting in our climate controlled homes, do we care that on the streets of our community that there are hundreds of people who will have to sleep outside and contend with extremes in temperatures? Or, do we just turn on the TV and tune out to reality?
There is one last thing I wonder about this evening as I sit here writing this post…
At one time or another all of us have had to fill out some type of application form. Some of them have a section for character references.
What if those character references had to do with how we personally view, respond and behave toward the homeless?
Would our application be approved? Or, would it be denied for lack of character?