This morning I was driving near our last home in Denver when I had the opportunity to watch a homeless man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, pushing a shopping cart half full with whatever worldly possessions he has now. He was moving quite slowly in clothes that were far too baggy for his frame. He had a light pink blanket hanging loosely over his shoulders for warmth. I passed him as I was on my way to drop off something at my sister’s house. On my way back towards the highway, I caught sight of him again down the road. I found myself wondering about him. Wondering how he got to be where he was. Wondering if he had family somewhere who had lost track of him. Wondering where he was heading and where he would sleep tonight. Wondering how long he had been a lost member of our society.
As I pulled onto the highway headed home, I thought about my current first world problems. I needed to purchase some duvet covers for new down duvets we recently bought. I needed to research puppy training for our new furry friend. I needed to figure out dinners for this week. Not one of these concerns of mine are anything other than intellectual. We can afford to take care of all three of the chores that were occupying my mind before I spied that man. My “worries” aren’t really worries at all, at least not in the same sense as a homeless individual. I have shelter, food, water, health care, warm clothing, and companionship. I’m rich in more ways than money.
There is a large homeless population in Denver. It’s unusual for me to go a day without seeing a person who is living without proper shelter and food. I often see homeless encampments or homeless individuals standing with signs on street corners or highway on/off ramps. I don’t have any idea how to help these disenfranchised, visibly invisible Americans. I donate clothes to homeless shelters. I hand out cash when I run across a person with a sign, hoping my assistance will provide some measure of comfort for them. I volunteer at organizations that seek to lessen the suffering of those who are without food and shelter security. But, at the end of the day, my efforts are barely a rain drop in a flood. All I keep thinking is how sad it is that, as the wealthy nation we are, we don’t do better for the people among us who struggle. We make no allowances for the unfortunate events in life that can leave a person without basic necessities. We can’t be bothered to care.
Call me whatever you want. Call me a bleeding heart. Call me a raging socialist. Call me a hypocrite in my lovely suburban home. Perhaps I am all those things. I don’t care. At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel we can do better, show more compassion, use some of our country’s wealth for the good of our people. If feeling this way makes me too sensitive and weak, a “snowflake” if you prefer, I’ll own it because I can’t understand why we won’t do better. And if you find yourself at church every Sunday and you still believe that those who suffer from homelessness or poverty simply need to do better for themselves, then it seems to me church is not helping you and you’ve not learned much from your holy texts. Look inside yourself and try to find your compassion, and then ask yourself why it is okay to malign those who struggle. Ask yourself how you would feel if your father, mother, brother, sister, child, or even you were in the same situation as the man I saw with the pink blanket today. Homelessness is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a human issue.
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
We can do better. We should do better. Anything less makes the United States far less great than we believe we are. It’s not the homeless who need to do more to change things for the better. It’s those of us with boots.