I’ve always had sympathy for the homeless. I was always the first to buy them food, give them money, or even share a conversation.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to provide them help through several of the organizations that I was given access to through law school.
But, on a recent adventure in Portland, that sympathy transformed into deep empathy as we found ourselves plus one car and minus one place to sleep.
The Joys of Car Camping Cross Country
For the first month of our cross country journey, car camping proved more enjoyable than difficult. In the rural areas, it was always easier.
Once we got into a bigger city, the hunt for an appealing and safe parking space became more of a challenge.
Fortunately, for the larger portion of our travels, there were always a variety of rest areas, truck stops, or grounds to choose from.
However, that all changed in Portland.
Due to their growing homeless population, cities like Portland have become stricter with their overnight parking policies.
Since, it was already past midnight, we decided to make the best out of our situation – after all, by then we were convinced that we were experienced nomads.
We had crossed the seemingly never-ending dirt roads, weathered the sky-blackening storms, and overcame numerous tiny obstacles that entered our path. So. . . we roughed it out.
Where the Hell Are We Going to Sleep?!
Needless to say, it was an extremely humbling experience. Our old trivial concerns of having a Wi-Fi connection were replaced with a new difficulty of figuring out where the hell we were going to sleep.
The sudden shift in priorities altered our mindsets in such a way that really brought us down to earth – which is exactly what we wanted.
During that process, it made us think even further about the hundreds of homeless people that we have encountered on our journey. Even as stripped down as we were of our comforts and conveniences, we still had a place to call home.
We knew that this journey was by choice and not by struggle. We understood that we had options instead of dead ends. It truly made us gain a wider perspective on what it really means to be homeless.
What Does it Really Mean to be Homeless?
I’m not referring to those that are voluntarily houseless. I don’t mean those that want to rebel and get a different taste of life.
I’m talking about those that have lost everything.
I’m speaking about those that are falling asleep each night just hoping for a brighter tomorrow. Those are the ones that we need to shed some light on.
When did we as a nation become so cold and detached from human emotion that we view people that are in worse situations as less than us?
Does Money Really Determine Character?
We constantly hear people speaking negatively about the “homeless”. They group them together as a general nuisance and bother for those more fortunate.
Sure, there are those that lie, cheat, and steal, but unfortunately those qualities aren’t limited to only those in times of desperation.
There are people with homes, money, jobs, and families that do unthinkable things, and yet we don’t carry those judgments onto others with similar status.
However, when it comes to people living on the street, we often feel too comfortable to label them as lazy, dangerous, or bums.
It has become more convenient for us to feed into the stereotypes, than it is for us to spare a smile – which is sometimes just as good, if not better than a dollar.
Homeless Describes More Than Living Conditions
Even the word itself: homeless, carries with it a deeper meaning that we seem to have missed as we have diluted our empathy and concentrated our apathy towards our fellow man.
Homeless doesn’t describe someone who lives on the street. It’s not someone who has no money or no job.
Homeless is not someone who makes creative signs out of cardboard and stands on the corner waiting for a stranger’s kindness to make their day.
Homeless is so much more than that.
Homeless explains a situation that far exceeds the living conditions.
A person who is homeless isn’t only lacking in a house, but more specifically a home.
For those of us lucky enough to have a place to call home, we understand that it carries more significance than just the four walls and roof that hold up the structure.
Home is a place of comfort, support, and love. Home is where we can go after a long day, put our feet up, and exhale in jubilant relief as we feel we can finally relax and unwind.
Those that are homeless don’t have any of that.
Getting in Touch With Humanity
When we see someone homeless, we quickly scroll through our phones or look down at our feet.
We avoid any eye contact as a means to avoid that feeling of pity; when in reality we should be the ones pitied for having lost all touch with humanity.
It’s all a part of the division tactics which separate us by status, color, gender, or any other arbitrary title. When, really, we are all just human.
If, it’s a general consensus that everyone is different and unique, then doesn’t that classification actually make us all the same? If we’re all individuals, then isn’t that something that binds us, not separates us?
There are no two people that are alike.
They might share the same complexion, but a different financial status. They might share the same block, however speak different languages.
They may even share the same DNA, yet have completely different perspectives on life.
The Only Category We Need to Use: Human
And, yet, we find ourselves clumping people together into categories that don’t really describe them at all. The only thing they describe is our ignorance for using them.
The only true category that accurately describes us all is: human. And, it’s the one that we all need to learn how to use.
When we have come to a point where we blatantly ignore our people because they have fallen on hard times, then the point has come to reevaluate just how far we think we have come.