When my sister and I traveled to North Carolina a woman said to us at our campground, “Y’all sure come a long way to live like hobos in the woods.” It was funny and we love to quote her. In true Right Kind Of Lost fashion, I love pretending to be homeless when I travel. I save so much money by sleeping in my car instead of paying for hotels. This allows me to travel more and go farther.
And I much as I joke about living like I’m homeless or like “hobos in the woods,” it is a choice I have. When conditions get too uncomfortable or something happens to make me worry, I can always leave and go back to my nice warm bed. In fact, on a trip last September to California, I got creeped out by some men. So I left and went to a motel where I could lock myself in. I had a nice bed and a much-needed shower.
But unfortunately, not everyone has that choice. One thing about living out of my car while traveling is that it makes me more sympathetic towards those who do not have a home. It makes me more empathetic to those who don’t have the option to leave when things get uncomfortable or dangerous.
We tend to look at homeless people as foreigners, people we don’t understand; therefore, we distance ourselves from them. There’s an “us and them” mentality. Once when I was in high school hanging out with my friends, we huddled together under a shared blanket in a park on the main drag of downtown. Because we were not yet 21, we chose the park because there wasn’t much else to do. A group of people walked by and we heard a man say, “Oh God, the homeless.”
If we look at homeless people as a foreign concept, then we don’t have to identify with them. And if we don’t identify with them, then we cannot end up like them. We are safe. That will never be us. And honestly, I used to not understand homelessness. I am fortunate to have a close family and a larger support system of friends. If something bad happens to me, I have a plethora of people who would take me in. But some people don’t have that.
This week as the temperatures dropped to record lows for many areas, I volunteered at the warming shelter. Another volunteer turned to me and said, “Times like these really show you what you take for granted.” And she is so right. We complain when our power goes out during a storm, but we still have a roof over our heads. And most of us probably don’t have to worry about literally freezing to death.
As a Christian, I believe we are supposed to take care of those less fortunate than us. And using your privilege to help others is a blessing. One thing I like to do is to serve those who are homeless. Not just help them, but serve them. One of the homeless shelters in the town where I live provides big Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. At these dinners, the volunteers are like the waitstaff at a restaurant. They bring them their dinner, get them drink refills, and bring seconds if asked.
I really like this concept because it helps lift up people who spend most of their lives being looked down on. When you do volunteer in this way, you find out “the homeless” are people, just like you. And you see the power of a warm smile and genuine care to help make someone’s world a little bit better.