Be the Cause

Day of Action: A Volunteer’s Perspective

By Katania Castaneda 

When I was asked to say a few words about poverty, I decided to focus on the most extreme aspect of poverty, and that is homelessness. A few weeks ago, I stopped off at convenience store to purchase some gasoline for my car, when a man came up to me and asked me for some spare change.  I told him that I did not have any money but that I’d be willing to buy him some food.  He seemed grateful and told me that he had not eaten all day.  So, I went inside, grabbed a few items and proceeded to approach the register. The attendant, who had witnessed what had happened, told me that I should not buy food for that man. He said:  “Those people out there, all they do is sit outside and smoke crack all day.” I said, “Yah, but he asked me for food, and I can’t deny someone food.  Besides, we don’t know what got that man into that state.” He proceeded to tell me all sorts of convincing arguments as to why I should not spend my money.  He said that that man should go out and get a job just like everyone else. I must admit, I was torn.  I was unsure what to do. But I purchased a few items anyway.

By the time I got outside, however, the man was gone.  I think one of the attendants had gotten to him before I had and must have told him to leave. A part of me was actually relieved that the man was gone.  I think maybe because I had done the good deed more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. But this experience got me thinking.  Why was I relieved that the man was gone?  What was going on here?  Why did this man make me feel so uncomfortable? It seems to me, that we all feel a little uncomfortable around homeless people.  They serve as a reminder to us of our own vulnerability, that maybe we too could end up just like the person standing in front of us. I’ve heard it said that most of us are only about 30 days away from being homeless, and that’s a scary thing. So when confronted with a homeless person, it is easier to just hand him some cash or some food and be on our way as quickly as possible. We forget, however, that that homeless person is a human being with feelings and emotions. Furthermore, it is very easy for us to just think, “Hey that man should get a job!” But consider this.  Think about the last time you looked for a job, how hard it was, how much time, effort, and even money went into finding that job. Now imagine you are homeless, with no resources, no proper clothing, no address to put on the application, no references.  Not only that, but imagine that you are a person who is not only susceptible on a daily basis to the harsh elements of nature, but you have not eaten or slept well in ages.  What do you think such a state does to a person’s ability to think and act clearly? Now add in any other factors like drugs or alcohol and you can see how difficult a person’s situation might be. So the next time a person walks up to you (or me) maybe the best thing to do would be to remember that that person is a living, breathing human being.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing to get to know homeless people and to respect them for their ability to survive in the harshest of conditions. How about this, we could try going without food for just one day.  Then on a hungry stomach, try doing some sort of skill that requires effort and concentration.  Then imagine that there are people who live like this everyday.

One comment

  • Sukh


    This is a very keen observation. It is true, most of the time we try to move away as quickly as possible when homeless individuals approach us. Many time, we try to avoid eye contact with them at all costs. We visited a homeless shelter in Southern California a while ago. The man helping out at the shelter was homeless at one point. He told his story. His wife had passed away and he went into a state of depression. From there he lost his job, and then his home. After many years he came across this shelter where he was finally treated like a human being. It was then that he started to get his life back in working order.

    For the few of us that are “making it” in the world, we are extremely fortunate. It is solely through the random gifts of the universe that we get to be where we are at. The only reason we aren’t in different shoes is because of many infinite factors. When we give to others, we are only passing on what is flowing through us. Kahlil Gibran once said, “See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life – while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.”

    Thanks for all that you do and your insights.

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