Helping the Homeless: Compassion Can Change Our World

Back in early September, I took my son out for an evening in New York City to enjoy the end of summer, as we begrudgingly settled into our back-to-school routine. After dinner and a little exploring, we began to make our way back to Penn Station to catch our train home. Along the way, we passed at least 8 homeless people - most slouched, faces hidden, the little belongings they had surrounding them on the dirty sidewalks that they call home. With each person that we passed, my son grew more and more quiet, and by the expression on his face, I could see that he was troubled. With concern and a shaky voice, he finally turned to me and asked, "Do they live there - don't they have anywhere to go? Mommy, how can we help them?" My heart sank at his questions, as I tried to explain the whys and hows of homelessness. I have wanted to volunteer for quite some time, but life always seems to be busy, and I have not worked toward this goal like I had hoped or should have - that is about to change.

My son's reaction reminded me of how I similarly reacted at a mere 4 years old, shopping in Elizabeth, NJ with my mother. We passed a man who was begging for spare change, and it was the first encounter I had had with a homeless person; I didn't even know that it was possible for people not to have a home. Clutching my mother's hand, I felt her tense as we walked across his path; she quickened her pace and pulled me along, ignoring the man. 4 year-old me didn't understand, and pulled back to stop her. "Wait," I said. I opened the tiny purse I was carrying, and took out the quarter I had (a lot of money to a kid and all that I had) - as I handed it to him, we locked eyes, and the expression in his was one I have never forgotten; a mix of gratitude and sadness stared back at me. As an innocent child, I think the idea of anyone having no choice but to sleep on a cold concrete sidewalk is something that you just cannot fathom. For me, it was the first peek into how cruel the world can be, and it left quite an impression, one that I have carried with me all of my life.

I recently visited a friend in Los Angeles, and knowing the City of Angels is famous for more than just the celebrities, I asked him to take me into Skid Row, the area of downtown L.A. where a large population of the homeless reside. There is actually a sign there - "Skid Row, population too many." I was not prepared for the absolute abundance, the heart-sickening overflow of homeless people - especially veterans. I thought I had seen my share in NYC, but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced before; I nearly had to fight back tears as I surveyed the horrific reality. Tents and cardboard boxes lined the sidewalks, filling them to the brim, and garbage (and urine) flowed into the streets. Homeless people roamed everywhere you looked - I can only compare to a scene similar to when a street fair is occurring, as we could barely drive through the thick crowd. My friend whispered in a defeated tone, "I cannot believe this is happening, here in America... this is the United States." The question that I have, that my friend had - HOW can this happen - how can we allow our own citizens to suffer? In a city where luxurious multi million-dollar mansions line the hills off the coast, where celebrities reside, how can we turn our heads and look the other way? I don't know that I will ever understand, but I know that I have to do my part. 

My experience as a little girl is what originally sparked my interest in helping people afflicted by extreme poverty and homelessness, but seeing the expression in my own child's eyes, that same way I felt at 4 years old, has only made me vow to try harder to help. I can no longer idly walk by or ignore this horrible reality; I pray none of us can. I hope to use my heart as well as my voice to help this cause, and I beg for you to join me. As mentioned in my previous article on the epidemic of homelessness, there are many great organizations you can volunteer your time with, and your efforts are needed well beyond the holiday season. Please remember that every helping hand, and every voice brings more awareness to this issue that so many Americans struggle with every day.

You really can make a difference in the world, we all can - we just have to try. Will you help?


  1. “Euro­pean [and American] opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and it comes directly from the soil and from the subsoil of that underdeveloped world … Deportations, massacres, forced labor, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to increase its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves, and to establish its power … For in a very concrete way Europe has stuffed her­ self inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries: Latin America, China, and Africa. From all these continents, under whose eyes Europe today raises up her tower of opulence … Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from the under­ developed peoples. So when we hear the head of a European state declare with his hand on his heart that he must come to the aid of the poor underdeveloped peoples, we do not tremble with gratitude. Quite the contrary, we say to ourselves: ‘It's a just reparation which will be paid to us.’”—from “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon []

    1. Very true, and unfortunate. I need to check this out - thanks for the recommendation.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts