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Look Me In My Eyes

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There has always been a population that has tugged on my heart for as long as I can remember. People who are homeless face many struggles that we may never have to think about. I intentionally say “people who are homeless” rather than “homeless people” because that is not who they are, but unfortunately, this is the season they are in.

The people in this group are oftentimes overlooked and ignored.  For a class project, we were given the opportunity to choose a population of a marginalized or oppressed group. Through the project, I was able to gain knowledge, engage, and advocate on behalf of people who are homeless. 

 There are many myths about people who are homeless and how this became their situation. There are so many layers and factors that people fail to think of when drawing assumptions. Factors including childhood trauma, inability to receive an education, discrimination from the system, mental illness, or a lack of support can put anyone at risk of becoming homeless.

The idea of pulling yourself by your bootstraps holds no weight when you don’t even own boots in the first place. Imagine wanting to apply for a job. Where do you gain access to a computer in order to apply? Do you have clothes and grooming products to present well? If they decide they would like to hire you, do you have access to a phone to receive the offer? Do you have reliable transportation.? In order to receive your paycheck do you have a mailing address or a bank account? Once you get the job, will the pay be enough to pay for a place to stay? I am going to say a hard no looking at this market. 

While driving downtown to work each week, I am faced with the harsh reality of homelessness. I observe as homeless people approach each car being denied time and time again. I see how people quickly roll up their windows and intensely focus on their phones to avoid eye contact. I don’t point the finger because I am guilty of this too. I watch as students walk casually by as another human being lays on the ground trying to keep warm, and I wonder if this scene has become an ignored part of the university campus aesthetic.

Have we become immune? Are we numb? Is this the face of desensitization? As I familiarized myself with people in these predicaments one thing rang true as a basic need. For others to see them as human and acknowledge their existence. 

Unfortunately, I have used the benefit of out of sight, out of mind. For years, I was working outside of the city so I did not have to witness the effects and impacts of homelessness. It’s easy to get consumed worrying about the million and one things that I have to get done, but it’s time I do the hard things. It’s time I pause and take a mindful moment to put myself in someone else’s shoes as much as I can. 

Here are a few ways that I am doing this: 

  • Each week, I have decided to carry cash with me and give it out to those who are homeless. It will intentionally be added to my monthly budget as a recurring fund.
  • Before I take my clothes to goodwill, I will find a shelter to donate them to. Not only gently worn clothes but new clothes as well. Specifically, interview attire. 
  • Throughout the year, I will be finding toiletry items that are on sale such as shampoo, soaps, tampons, and washcloths, and donate them to shelters because those items should not be a luxury.
  • When I finish my program, I will spend more time helping people that are homeless practice interview questions, revise their resumes, and help them get dressed for interviews. 

More needs to be done than handing out meals and providing gifts for Christmas. More must be done to help those that are homeless transition to a more sustainable way of living, which can’t be done only at the individual level. 

I felt that it was important to provide places to volunteer that not only offer one-time emergency services but ones that are on a mission to provide security and help people who are homeless work towards stability.

Crossroads Community Ministry– Downtown Atlanta, Georgia

Provides birth certificates, transportation Marta cards, hot meals, and a stabilization program to provide housing for people who are homeless.

Bigger Visions of Athens – Athens, Georgia

Can volunteer to help prepare and serve meals. There are opportunities to interact with the guests. They offer an Abundant Life Program that offers certified job skills training in a variety of areas including hospitality, manufacturing, nursing assistance, and more. 

Sparrow’s Nest – Athens, Georgia

Provides hot meals, and showers to guests and helps guests to obtain documentation such as birth certificates. Sparrows nest also has a computer lab. Offers a Breaking the Cycle Program that teaches participants about financial planning, employment skills, and other transferable skills. 

Gateway Center – Downtown Atlanta, Georgia

Provides showers, laundry services, housing placement, job skills training, and counseling services for people who are homeless. 

I will be adding to the list as I learn about more resources and feel free to let me know if there are any that you feel should be on this list. I always considered advocacy as a gesture that had to be grand and on a systems level but I am learning that individual efforts can be just as impactful.

What things can you do to take a mindful moment and consider those in need?

Mindfully Learning,

Lynell

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