When I went in for my first shift volunteering at a homeless shelter, I could have never imagined how in a few short months my perspective on our world could change so much. I have been volunteering at Mission House at the beaches since late June, and I do not claim to know everything there is to know about homelessness and running such a wonderful organization that helps so many individuals. What do I know is that seeing addiction, mental health issues, and sometimes simple bad luck put people in such horrible positions has been both eye opening and heart breaking.
My most regular job is handing out toiletries to our clients so they can use our facilities to take a shower, and getting them a fresh set of clothes. Standing behind an open window, I gather their essentials while gazing into the forgotten faces of society. After a while spending time at the shelter, I begin to know their stories and grow to have a special bond with the regulars. They appreciate me for helping them, and I thank them for keeping me grounded and humble- and sometimes for a good laugh too.
I think the biggest problem within the issue of homelessness is the fact that we seem to forget that they are people, human beings just like you and me. Even I was guilty of such a thing. The first time it really dawned on me was when I was looking for a shirt for a woman that came to the window, she told me “I want one like my husband has.” and proceeds to call him over to the window so I can see. Her husband? I did not let it show, but inside my brain, the wheels were turning. I never even thought about the fact that homeless people could be married. We picture individuals without a home to be alone, lonesome gypsies without any family or friends.
Learning how to help people without placing judgment is an important skill I have learned. It does not matter why someone is in the situation they are in- whether it is their own doing or simply bad luck- if they have a desire to start a new beginning that is all that matters. In today’s world, we live in such a judgemental culture, always thinking that you could never possibly be in a situation like that because you’re smart, right? You would never make such dumb decisions, right? Wrong. The reality is we have a mental health and addiction problem in this country. People are left to fend for themselves while suffering from a number of mental diseases. Why should we leave these people out to dry? Everyone is entitled to a fair chance at life, and impoverished individuals being left alone without any healthcare or support is not giving them a fair chance. Organizations like the one I volunteer for should not have to exist in the richest country in the world.
While I sit on my couch in my air conditioned home in Jacksonville Beach, people are suffering. I have become ever more vigilant about the mass amount of privilege I was born into, and more grateful every day to be handed an easy upbringing. I hope that you, my dear reader, can begin to realize the privilege you have been given. It is easy to feel that everything in your life is going wrong sometimes. Even I have those moments. If you have a bed to sleep in, clothes on your back, proper vaccinations, health care, and you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from- I’d say that you are doing pretty good. Please do not take your privilege for granted. Recognize it, be grateful for it, and try to help others with it.
Like Kennedy’s work? Follow her at her blog: http://www.gracefullygraceless.com