If “look” means “stare” then yes, don’t. But why not look? Why look away? Pretend they don’t exist? Kind of make them go away by pretending they don’t exist? Assume it embarrasses them when you look? (Perhaps it does, I don’t know.)
January 19, 2010
Helping the Homeless
Choosing Not To Look Away
Homeless people in our communities are a fact of life, especially in big cities. Many of us don’t know how to interpret this situation or what we can do to help. We may vacillate between feeling guilty, as if we are personally responsible, and feeling angry, as if it is entirely on their own shoulders. The situation is, of course, far more complex than either scenario. Still, not knowing how to respond, we may fall into the habit of not responding at all. We may look over their heads not making eye contact, or down at the ground as we pass, falling into a habit of ignoring them. Each time we do this, we disconnect ourselves from a large portion of the human family, and it doesn’t feel right.
Most of us know in our hearts that the homeless and the poor are not so very different from us. They may be the victims of poor planning or an unavoidable crisis. Some of them are mentally ill, some are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and some are choosing to be homeless for reasons we may never understand. We can imagine that, given their lives, we would likely have ended up in the same place. This does not mean that we are meant to rescue them, as they are on their own learning path, but it does remind us that we can treat them as equals, because that is what they are. Even if we aren’t able to offer food, shelter, or money, we can offer a blessing as we pass. We can look them in the eye and acknowledge our shared humanness, even if we don’t know just how to help them. This simple act of kindness and silent or spoken blessings can be so helpful to those living on the street.
If you want to help with information, you can learn about the services in your area and share the locations of food banks, shelters, and other resources. Perhaps your family would like to have a plan ahead of time, talking with your children about how as a family you would like to handle these situations. Whatever you decide to do, you will feel much better when you make a conscious choice not to simply look away.