We all have our idea of what someone who is experiencing homelessness looks like. Our Development Officer, Jeff Conner, put this idea in my mind, and I’ve been thinking about it for the past few months. And working in a homeless shelter, you come face-to-face with those faces every day. Our racist biases, how we perceive one person as ‘more worthy’ than another, what we see as value in a person, all are part of our ideas we form around a person at first glance. Do those experiencing homelessness have less value to you than, let’s say, your parent, child, or best friend?
Maybe one of these is your idea of what someone experiencing homelessness looks like:
- The old, dirty, humped over person pushing a shopping cart full of bags and what looks like garbage down the street.
- The drunk sitting on the sidewalk or back alley with alcohol in a paper bag, begging for money.
- The person on the side of the road at the stoplight that has a cardboard sign in their hand.
- The tent-filled encampments we see on the news.
Did one of these or another image pop in your mind? How old was the person, what color was their skin, were they clean or dirty? Now imagine your mother, child, or friend’s face in place of the face that came to mind. How do you feel about homelessness now? What is the face you see?
You might be very surprised by who enters our shelter. Thirty percent of our residents are 18 to 24 year olds, with some aging out of the foster care program and left on the street. Seventy-five percent have mental health issues. Imagine how difficult these times are for you; our residents are struggling with isolation, missed doctor appointments, and having their path to independence suddenly halted. A friendly face, a smile, someone to come alongside that has the resources to guide them makes all the difference.
I’ve learned that at Stepping Stone, we put value on every person that walks through our doors, regardless of how they look to others. We provide a warm (or cool) and safe place to sleep, three meals a day, a bathroom and shower, towels, toiletries, and other necessities. We then create a housing plan with them, and help them find employment. We give them a ‘stepping stone’ to self-sufficiency.
Until we, as a society, change our views on how we see people, we will never end homelessness, racism, or any other bias we have toward another human being. ALL human life has value – and EQUAL value. I hope this makes you think, as it did me when I came to work at Stepping Stone, that we need to change who we are before we can change the world.
Author: Valerie Jensen, Development Coordinator