Anyone one my flickr and facebook sees that Seattle’s homeless problem weighs heavily on my heart. As per my wont, the more upset I get about something, the more stuck and useless I feel about it. So the more amped up I get on helping the homeless, the more my weekends are spent laying in bed crying over this awful world that would leave people freezing in the street like that.
Not exactly helpful.
I’ve been taking photos of homeless people hiding inside sleeping bags, as I passed, collectively, hundreds of homeless people sleeping in the freezing cold on my walk to work each morning. Working in my high-end office full of people obsessed with metrics and deadlines, and not helping other people, only made me feel worse. I uploaded these photos every chance I got, issuing a plea to all my social media: THESE PEOPLE NEED HELP. What can we do??!
So yesterday I met up with two friends and got an amazing Christmas present. My friend wanted to help me help the homeless. She knew it was a super important issue to me and that I spent a lot of time feeling awful about it, and also stuck and helpless and useless.
So my present was a huge to-go urn of coffee, cream and sugar and cups and lids. My first instinct was my usual ennui, its not helpful enough, what’s the point, these people need homes, not a beverage. I’m too shy and it’s too embarrassing and I’ll be too vulnerable.
But then we got going and my opinion totally changed.
The three of us went up to Broadway and walked up and down it, offering every homeless (or sitting on the sidewalk looking disenfranchised) person we met a cup of hot coffee. A few people weren’t interested but many were. Some were happy to have something hot, some seemed cheered up to have someone to talk to for a bit. It was difficult to see and interact with people who were clearly suffering or mentally ill, but it was less difficult than walking on by them like I do every day. It felt like a million bucks to just stop and talk with some people on the street, be nice, offer them something, even if they didn’t want it. The other great gift is that my friend is a people-person, so she could chat with people even when I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious and tongue-tied. It helped lots having my shy-like-me friend there as well, we felt safer in numbers and the whole thing was more fun and social than going solo would have been.
At the end of our coffee run, I felt so much better. I think in several cases a little human kindness may have brought a moment of brightness to me and the people living on the street. I met a lot of new people and started to see some of the community behind the poverty. And it helped me, so much. I did something! I reached out. I helped warm a couple cold bellies.
I still plan to spend my unemployed time volunteering with Seattle homeless nonprofits like Union Gospel Mission and Orion Center, but I feel so good I could do something right here and now, I could try, even if I was too afraid to try. My friend helped me be brave for Christmas.