Why I Don’t Volunteer with Homeless People

It’s  pet peeve.  I know it.

Everyone has one, so I thought I’d share mine.  I mean, one of mine.

I have many.  Like lunch and dinner are at noon–depends on what it is as to whether it’s dinner or not.  (for example, sandwiches=lunch; chicken, peas, squash, biscuits=dinner) Supper is at night.  Done deal.

When I worked at the childcare center, I always said “children” not “kids.” Not sure why, but it mattered to me.

So yeah, I don’t volunteer with homeless people.

People who are homeless?  Sure. Some are close friends of mine.  Women who are in temporary housing?  Yes.

But homeless people?  No.

Some might think it’s a matter of semantics, but the distinction is important to me.

When we say homeless people, we’re labeling.  Using their homelessness as an adjective to describe them.   I prefer to say I have friends who are homeless. That describes their situation. People first.  Always.  Because that’s who they are.  Their status is not.

Many years ago I worked with Hospice as a social worker and grief therapist.  When I went to meet a patient for the first time, I would look at the patient information sheet to see the diagnosis one time.  After that I let myself forget it.  Their diagnosis did not define who they were, and I wanted to get to know the person and family outside of that diagnosis.

Just as I want to know the person outside of their living situation.  It does not define who they are–their personality, their dreams, their favorite foods, the things they love.  It is their situation for the time being.  And that’s it.

We are more alike than different.  And in the end, that’s what counts.  Relationships.  Without the labels. That really hit home with me last week as I sat in our Sister Circle and a young woman and I shared what it was like for each of us to lose our mothers recently.  The words, the labels, only serve to separate–the homeless and the housed, the working and the unemployed, the sick and the healthy, the haves and the have nots.  Separate, things are never going to get better for any of us.  As long as any one of us is homeless, enslaved, impoverished, hungry, lost, afraid, sick–it affects all of us.

In the past week there have been a lot of quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28th.  Here’s one that really spoke to me.

pic of mlk quote

Truth.  As long as any of us is without a home, sick with cancer, enslaved, lost–we all are.  As much as we’d like for these labels to separate us from the things that we fear most, we are all connected.  It’s time to rip off the labels and look deeper, invest in a relationship with the person in front of us, and get to know the person outside of the box our society tries to put them in.  When we do that, and we see with our eyes and hearts–that is the stuff that truly begins to free us all.