BE Savvy

Start Doing This When You See Homeless People

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homeless (Image: iStock.com/beichh4046)

Growing up in a town of 3,000 people, homelessness was not something we confronted on a regular basis. In fact, my memories are limited to just two encounters. The first was around age 10 in Boise, Idaho, when I tearfully begged my mom to stop the car for a woman in a wheelchair who was holding a sign that read, “Hungry, Disabled, Need Help.” My mom kept driving. The second time, my family walked quickly past a dreadlocked man in Vancouver, British Columbia that was asking for food. We lamented later that we’d forgotten about the spaghetti in the takeout box we were carrying the entire time.

I didn’t understand back then why we weren’t taking the time to help the homeless. In true small-town spirit, my family generally prioritized their benevolence. They would pull off to the side of the road to help dig strangers’ cars out of snowy ditches, or lend muscle power to neighbors who were struggling to move heavy furniture. But what seemed to be a big city problem often didn’t register.

Perhaps that’s why, years later, as I now walk in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, I take a wide path around panhandlers sitting on the sidewalk and avoid eye contact. We’re all guilty of this at one time or another. It becomes routine.

But, what if we stopped for a moment and took the time to acknowledge the humanity in homeless people all around us?

Let’s start with the most selfish reason: many of us aren’t far off from being homeless ourselves. According to MarketWatch, more than 60% of Americans don’t have funds to cover emergency car repairs or medical expenses, and to be caught off guard can end in disaster.

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Emily Zak is a Santa Fe-based writer who cares about too many social justice issues to count. In addition to HeartBeings, her work has appeared on Ms. Online, Care2, EarthIsland.org and others.

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