Since I moved to Atlanta, I have experienced the plight of my homeless sisters and brothers in a manner quite different from times in the past. There is a vast difference between knowing people are homeless and seeing them walking around town and sitting down at the table for a meal with a homeless person. This is what happens at the Open Door and it can be a transformative experience.
While I was there last week, I met at least 40 homeless people as they came to the soup kitchen. I have met others while visiting during the clinic hours and on Sundays during the time of worship. These are not faceless, nameless people anymore, they are people with stories, hopes and dreams. We are brothers and sisters to one another. Some of us have homes and some do not.
Since I lived a large part of my early life just a paycheck or two away from homelessness as many Americans of today are doing, I have a deep sense of connection with those who struggle to take care of themselves and others who are losing that struggle. Throughout my college years it was rare for me to have enough money for anything above a limited amount for necessities such as food and rent.
Even after college my money was always scarce because of low salaries and repayment of school loans. But this did not bother me too much, because of the scarcity of my early life, the post college years did not seem that lean. My sharecropping father and underpaid school teaching mother did all they could to provide for us, but there was always too little for all of the needs that we had as a family. So the clothes that my mother made from flour sacks and hog food sacks were very common to us. Her creativity made us feel better about them and try to accept them. Most meals were vegetables and corn bread for lunch and dinner and biscuits with margarine and syrup made from white sugar or in better times from sugar cane. On the rare occasions that there was meat with one of these meals, we were filled with great delight. But I am deeply grateful for the foundation this scarcity laid in my psyche for compassion and the willingness to try to walk in another’s shoes.
Of the readers who will see this piece, I imagine there are some who can identify with the issues of economic and food insecurity and overall scarcity. Hopefully the ability to walk in another’s shoes will create a new wave of energy in our communities that will help in seeking to eliminate homelessness in the not too distant future.
There is no defensible reason for the massive numbers of homeless people in our cities at this time. Unfortunately, our problem with this challenge is not one of resources as much as it is a lack of will. We can provide housing and food for all who go without today if we make the choice.
We could feed thousands on the massive amount of food that we throw away each year and there are enough churches sitting idle to provide sleeping spaces for many as well. There is a wonderful church in the Seattle, Washington area that is providing shelter for homeless men during the coldest winter months there. This demonstrates that this can be done and when it is done in partnership, all who are involved share the benefits.
As long as it is alright with those who have homes for others to sleep in alleys and doorways, it will continue. We, who have homes, must not rest until all who are sleeping on the streets, in alleys and doorways have a key to a safe and clean place to sleep. We can do it.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.