When I was 18 years old I talked to a homeless person for the first time. I went with a small group of people to Denver during spring break and we spent the week talking to homeless people on the streets.
It was extremely awkward at first. You don’t know what to say or how to approach a homeless person, so you typically just avoid eye contact and act like they’re not there. You justify your actions by telling yourself you have nothing to give them, or by convincing yourself that they did this to themselves via drugs and alcohol. This was me, and this is why I didn’t talk to a homeless person until I was 18. However, that was the most impactful week of my life. Getting over myself and encountering humans that had no home changed my perspective in many ways.
A question pierced me that week and its been really on my heart lately, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot: why is it so hard for me to acknowledge homeless people and talk to them?
It was around that time when I was a senior year in high school that I began to realize that I never dealt with any problems in a serious or healthy way. Whether it was an issue with a friend, brokenness within the family, or my own mistakes, I chose never to acknowledge the reality of these things, but rather to distance myself from them. I thought, and still think sometimes, that if I ignored my problems than I wouldn’t have to deal with them. I could dodge all the uncomfortable situations, difficult change, and hard conversations.
I think most humans tend towards this inner disposition. We automatically try to escape hard truths. The brutal reality that our lives are not perfect, nor will they ever be. Our scars and blemishes, the fact that we always interrupt people when they talk, our mean comments to people we actually care about. We don’t want to acknowledge these things. Our imperfections. We are scared of them. We never want to accept that those imperfections are us as well. The mishaps, the mess, the brokenness. We ignore it all and avoid eye contact at all times.
I think this is one of the reasons I want to avoid homeless people and feel uncomfortable around them. I want to avoid the mess and imperfections inside of me, and never show it to anyone else. I’ll present a nice exterior to the world, but they don’t know the reality of the interior. However, a homeless person reveals the mess and imperfections on the exterior. Nothing to hide. I take one look at a homeless person and see all the things I run from. I see my mistakes and flaws. The uncomfortable, dirty stuff that isn’t pretty or orderly enough for me to deal with is shoved in my face.
I think this is a major reason people avoid homeless people and feel a deep unease as they walk by them. What possible connection could a businessman in a suit walking into his skyscraper have with the homeless person on the sidewalk outside?
Unless one is willing to acknowledge their own faults, shortcomings, and brokenness in their own lives, then the connection is hard to find. Fortunately it is a human connection. A thing that connects us all despite any differences. No matter how much we ignore it, it still exists.
The imperfections, sufferings, and chaos in my life is not necessarily visible to others. However, I think that homeless people do not have a choice but to make it visible to others.