We all know the stereotype: the old homeless man begging for a few pennies so he can buy another beer. The truth, though, is that being poor many times is not the result of a rational choice, but is driven by circumstances beyond our control. The homeless are not always alcoholics or drug addicts. Sometimes, their life flipped upside down on them so fast that the next thing they knew, they were spending a lonely night out on the street.
For me, living around so many poor people is like a never-ending moral hangover, especially when I have days where I complain about not being able to afford some luxury bag while the people I pass by are struggling to survive another night. Many times, we forget how blessed we really are. My hangover never quite fades because, even if I’m sharing or helping those people, I still feel the sting of remorse that I didn’t do enough. Although I am part of the consumeristic world, I can’t walk away from the local problems I see. This is so deep inside of me that I can’t stay away from a life affected by injustice. I have the urgent need to change it.
I guess it’s all related to my childhood. After my dad passed away, my family suffered significant financial problems. Thinks like buying expired yogurt that was drastically marked down became quite normal. It didn’t bother me too much; I was happy just to have something. Looking back, I’m amazed that my mum could manage the family’s measly budget so well. Now I spend more in a regular week of grocery shopping than what we had for a month’s worth of food, utilities, clothes, and books. Coming from a place like that made me understand what it’s like to be poor, to struggle, and how drastically life can change due to random and unexpected events. Although I still don’t have much, it’s a lot more than many other people have, so I feel obligated to do something.
I am helping, but even writing about it now makes me feel ridiculous because I’m not changing the world. I’m simply trying to change the reality of those around me in the small ways that I’m able to, especially in these days where my old sweater that means nothing to me might mean being warm for the first time in days to someone else.
I don’t believe in posting my good will on social media by taking a selfie with the people sleeping on the street. Doing a good deed shouldn’t be a reason to get special attention, at least in my opinion. I want to help people, not sell myself. Besides, it’s not about us – it’s about those who need an extra blanket or old jacket, those who stay overnight in ATMs, on old benches, under bridges, or in building recesses to keep the cold winter wind from cutting into them.
I know how difficult and uncomfortable it might be to interact with someone who hasn’t had a bath in days, or who behaves a bit different than we’re used to, but keep in mind that it’s not always their fault. Living outside of society never makes your life easier or more sociable. You start to forget how to communicate decently, so before judging, we need to try and understand one another. For us, the easiest way to ignore the reality is to degrade the homeless, to think of them as nothing more than a drunk, no one worthy of our attention. This helps us to not feel guilty and to keep our conscious on a leash. But I believe that by leaving our comfort zone just a bit, we can change lives. If we change the small, local things, it will all come together to make a big difference.
So next time you’re about to throw away last season’s fashions, think about me. I could be on the street just as easily, but I was a bit luckier. I could be the one who has nothing, who is freezing at night because I have nowhere to go to stay warm. Right in front of your eyes, there are so many touching stories that can be improved by simple human gestures.
Great thanks to Ellielove for proofreading