Thursday, September 9, 2010

To give or not to give? by Abby Strunk

A question I've been asked frequently since taking on the role of Executive Director of Street Sense is, "What should I do when I see a homeless person?" Many people reference a memory from their childhood when they were told by their mother or father not to give money because doing so enables the person. In other words giving a dollar might contribute to that individual remaining on the streets. I disagree. But, I also do not believe that giving money to a homeless person is the only action one can take.

While I've never been homeless myself, I don't know anyone who wants to or likes to feel invisible. But, that's how many of our homeless neighbors feel. I once heard a homeless man say, "I feel like a ghost, like people can see right through me."

One of my favorite yoga authors, Judith Lasater, suggests a mantra for daily living: I will do what I can in response to what is needed here. I recommend using this mantra as a guide when deciding how you can help someone who is struggling. Simply ask yourself, "What is it that I can do in response to what is needed here?" Can I carry granola bars in my bag to give out to someone who needs it? Can I ask a homeless person if I can buy them a cup of coffee or tea? Can I sacrifice a half-hour of my time to buy someone lunch?

Can I make a commitment to give my time, money or resources to an organization that is making a positive difference?

All of these are incredibly noble efforts.  What is almost certain is that the next time you pass someone who is living on the streets, you can make eye contact, say "hello," ask how he/she is doing and wait to hear a response. Give someone who is homeless the gift of being seen and heard.

I draw inspiration from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke at the National Cathedral just before his death. He said: "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."

Please do what you can in response to what is needed.

Abby Strunk is the Executive Director of Washington, D.C.'s Street Sense, a 16-page biweekly street newspaper that offers economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness through a newspaper that elevates voices and encourages debate on poverty and injustice.