I leaned back in a comfy easy chair at the bookstore sipping my latte and nibbling on a warm blueberry scone, casually chatting with my husband. “Aaaah, life is pretty darn good,” I thought glancing around. My gaze stopped on the man slumped in a nearby chair, his hair and beard unkempt, his clothing a bit disheveled. He dozed in the warmth of the store, the smell of fresh coffee wafting through the air while a bitter winter wind whistled outside. And then it hit me. . . this guy was homeless. He’d slipped in to find shelter from the elements, seeking a safe place to grab a few minutes of sleep.
Suddenly that scone and latte didn’t taste so great. How could I enjoy it when this man had so little? Middle-class guilt kicked in. But what to do about it? Should I offer to buy him a coffee and a muffin? Give him some cash? Turn away and pretend he didn’t exist? I hate to admit it but this was my first thought. The little I could offer him was so lame. A band-aid, nothing more. I knew that. So much easier to turn away.
But it was impossible to ignore his plight. I struggled with how to approach him. Didn’t want to embarrass him — or me — by offering a hot cup of coffee or money. I waited. Tried to figure out the best way to handle this. After all, he hadn’t asked me for anything. He was just there, trying to remain invisible, unobtrusive, quiet.
And then it happened. . . an employee walked up and ordered him to go. Apparently he’d tried sleeping in one of their chairs before. Unacceptable. Not the kind of person they needed hanging around. He wasn’t welcome and needed to leave. Now.
The homeless guy didn’t argue because he was used to being unwanted. He was simply an irritating reminder to the rest of us that a safe, comfortable life isn’t guaranteed. A problem to be disposed of as quickly as possible. As he turned to leave, waves of anger, guilt, and embarrassment washed over me. A health crisis, unemployment, divorce, or a twist of fate and it could have just as easily been me shuffling quietly out into the cold.
In that moment, my husband and I did the only thing we could think of. My husband gave him the Starbucks card in his wallet and I handled him some cash. It was inadequate. Totally inadequate. An embarrassingly small gesture. But the man turned his big blue eyes to me and looked right into mine. He seemed surprised that anyone even saw him as another human being. Graciously he whispered, “Thank you and God bless you.” And then he was gone.
A brief moment in time. Two people separated by circumstance. And connected by so much more.
We all want to have others look at us, not through us. To be seen as another human being deserving of dignity and respect. Not to be dismissed as “less than” because of the way we look or what our current situation happens to be. To have enough food to eat, a safe place to live, and opportunities to improve our lot in life. Just the basics of living.
That brief encounter with the homeless man nagged at me. I know there are thousands of homeless people in the US and it’s a national disgrace. What kinds of simple, creative, and inexpensive solutions are out there? What I found gave me hope.
Gregory Kloehn is an Oakland artist who decided to combine his creativity and cast off junk to build tiny homes on wheels for those who have nowhere to live. Inspired by the tiny house movement, he uses things that usually end up in landfills to build small shelters in two or three days. For about 100 bucks. Yeah, you read that right. Volunteers have now jumped in to help with this amazing project.
Sometimes all it takes a a kid with a creative way of looking at a problem. I love this Home Dome idea. Max Wallack was just 12 years old when he entered the Design Squad Trash to Treasure competition. His Home Dome is made from plastic bags stuffed with styrofoam packing peanuts, both materials that often end up in garbage dumps. OK, it may not be completely practical as a solution in it’s current form but why not build on this terrific idea? Any designers out there that can tweak Wallack’s idea a bit?
Non-profits can partner with cities to look at the homeless in a much different light and use ingenuity and creativity to tackle the problem and create sustainable community solutions.
On a much larger scale, non-profits can partner with cities to look at the homeless in a much different light and use a bit of ingenuity and creativity to tackle the problem. Mobile Loaves & Fishes in Austin, TX built the Community First Village to give the homeless safe, permanent housing along with micro enterprise opportunities for people to earn a living. This model makes sense for so many communities. Why couldn’t it work in yours?
What’s happening in your community to help the homeless? Share what’s working. Tell us about your ideas. Let’s change this together!
Look for more blogs soon about how people just like you and me are tackling big problems with more creativity and collaboration than money. And if you need a little help getting your own creative juices flowing, check out my eBook Unlock Your Creativity: 30 Days to a More Creative YOU!
Bonnie Pond is an inspiring speaker, self-described “Bahooda Kicker” who helps women stop settling for less than they really want in life, and founder of the international Make Your Life Count Movement. Her mission is to motivate women around the world to live their purpose, love their lives, and make them count.