I believe that every human being deserves to be seen.
There are hundreds of homeless men and women around Washington D.C. When I came to the city, I’d heard the same stereotypes as everyone else: homeless people are drunks, drug addicts, insane, or lazy. Clustering around benches in small parks, within urban college campuses, and dotting the Mall with their own spheres of poverty, I now see them everyday. More importantly, I see how other people view the homeless. They don’t.
I signed up with my university’s Community Building Community program before freshman year began, not knowing at all what to expect. On the second day of community work, we were visited by a panel who talked with us about homelessness.
I doubt that I will ever forget the first man who spoke to us. He was clean-shaven with bright white hair, a respectable pressed, starched dress shirt, and a thin face that matched a gaunt upper-torso. Before long, my attention shifted from his appearance; I became absorbed by his voice. That voice was one that should have belonged to a man so tired, he was ready to die. Instead, it belonged to a man who couldn’t have been much older than fifty.
John described how he’d kept a steady job for decades, but had never bothered with a college education. When his company downsized, his house burnt down, and his Honda collapsed twice, he spent his last $100 getting it towed to a parking lot to live in. The car was soon towed away, and John was left homeless. Just like that.
Many people are left homeless through no fault of their own, just strokes of bad luck and unemployment. I realized that they aren’t drunks, high on drugs, crazy, and certainly not lazy, but they are there. Living and breathing. People worthy of acknowledgment. Now that I live in D.C., I’m going to do what I can to help those who are less fortunate, even when I don’t necessarily have change in my pocket. I walk to the new Trader Joe’s on L Street and say hello to the down-and-out Redskins fan on the outer rim of the Washington Circle, or come out of the metro and stop to listen to a homeless musician playing his guitar. One panel member told us that on some days, all he wanted was a smile from someone as a validation that he wasn’t invisible. I figure that’s the least I can do.
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