There’s a lot of shame that comes with homelessness. The world looks at you differently when you cross that line from being “normal” to not having a roof over your head. I know that for me, 17 years ago, there were family and friends who had no idea what I was going through and probably would have helped if I’d given them a chance … but there’s a “switch” that goes off in your head and tells you, “It’s you against the world, and no one cares.” After all, how does someone go to people they’ve tried to impress with all their accomplishments over the years and tell them that they’re now living in a car or in a tent or under a bridge?
So you hide, and you come to the conclusion that they probably wouldn’t help anyway, so there’s no sense in asking. Pride and shame are dangerous things, whether you’re living in a tent or in a million-dollar house. I know people living in big houses who already have an almost “homeless mentality” because of addictions or financial problems—their pride/shame won’t let them ask anyone for help, because to do that would mean admitting to the biggest “sin” of all: that they’re not perfect. I mean, our society acts like imperfection should be punishable by death, right? I wonder if that’s why some people chose suicide.
Wow, I didn’t mean to start preaching—sorry.
Anyway, shame is huge with the homeless. Sometimes the hardest thing to convince someone is that they’re worth saving, especially if they’ve been homeless for a while. So you need to start slowly, by asking a person’s name (and they’ll often give you a nickname because when you’re in that position you really don’t want anyone to know the real you because you’re afraid they wouldn’t like you). Then you start building a relationship with them, with the end goal being to restore their hope in themselves, in God, and in their family. And then, hopefully, they can start the process of mending bridges they thought were burnt forever—and then then maybe, just maybe, they will start the journey home or at least to a better life.
When I talk to children about what Manna Café does, I use this illustration:
“Who has a best friend?” I ask, and they all raise their hands. Then I ask, “If your friend lost his place to live, would he still be your best friend?” They usually all nod their heads real big—yes! Then I ask, “But what if they also didn’t take a shower for a couple days—would they still be your best friend? The kids usually giggle a little, but then say yes. Then I ask, “What if your best friend didn’t take a bath for a whole week—would they still be your best friend?” Usually by now, they’re all making funny faces and saying, “Ewww!”—but most still say yes. Then I ask, “What if that same friend didn’t have anything to eat—would you share your peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” They all nod their heads real big again and say yes.
“Well, at Manna Café,” I tell them, “we take care of homeless people because every homeless person is still someone’s best friend, brother, sister, son, daughter, father, or grandpa … and God still loves them and sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross just for them so they’d never be alone.”
Until next time, peace out.
3 thoughts on “Homelessness and Shame”
This is a beautiful piece. One of the things that I always try to preach is the idea that, “We are them, they are us, we are one.” I know that it is much easier to see a man or woman on the street as just dirty, lazy or shiftless. Seeing human beings and passing them by is much harder. May we all hear what the Spirit is saying to is through you and the work that you do.
I really appreciate your honest viewpoint. My husband and I give free medical care to the homeless in our area but sometimes our hardest job is convincing our friends that they are worthy of taking care of. Please keep writing. Streetmedicinelehighvalley.org
Such a great way to explain something to many people who just do not get it. Everyone is special to someone !