The Unexpected (?) Kindness of People Experiencing Homelessness

Did you see the video where the kid is laying on the sidewalk and the only person to stop and offer warmth and comfort was a man that is homeless?

Did you read the news story where a woman that is homeless found a wallet – and returned it without taking any of the money or using the credit cards first?

Did you hear about the youth that is homeless that sang the song to the kid that was crying at the parade?

 

I like a feel-good, good-news story as much as the next person. What I cannot fathom is why the homelessness status of the individual is such a riveting point in the news story. It is as if people experiencing homelessness are incapable of being kind.

If you want to understand kindness, maybe you need to understand empathy first. I can share the feelings of another if I have felt those feelings myself. If homeless, it is natural empathy to provide warmth and comfort of another. It is natural empathy to return precious belongings of another if I, myself, have experienced things taken from me. It is natural empathy to help others find joy during periods of discomfort or frustration – as I long to feel the same.

People experiencing homelessness are – believe it or not news media outlets and sensational FaceBook status updaters – capable of the same range of emotions and housed people. You do not lose your capacity to have emotions when you experience homelessness. To think otherwise is to, perhaps implicitly, reinforce that if you are homeless you are an “other”…not someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

5 Responses to “The Unexpected (?) Kindness of People Experiencing Homelessness”

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  1. Christine says:

    THIS.

    You could have given it an alternative title: “How feel-good memes reinforce the ways our society forgets that homeless people are actually people.”

  2. Hear hear. These stories are really modern versions of the parable of the Good Samaritan and serve the same purpose, that is, to remind us of all of the things you mention. It’s easy for us 2000 years later to forget that the Samaritans were the downtrodden “other” in 1st Century Palestine much as people experiencing homelessness tend to be today and so, I bet a lot of us have misunderstood that parable or at least not in it’s full depth. I would hope that those who see these stories (and especially those who pass them along) would see that the point is (as you noted) that we should be learning from that comforting man, the non-acquisitive woman, and the singing youth and emulating them. I hope so, but I know a lot of them don’t. You do not lose your capacity for empathy when you experience homelessness. On the contrary, evidence suggests it is wealth and comfort that erode that capacity.

  3. Evelyn Reyes says:

    To assume that a homeless individual cannot/nor would not do the right thing is reflective of todays society and their thoughts of homeless people in general. For many in our world, homeless people should be suspect, have an agenda or are truly corrupt. How sad. Let us walk a mile in their shoes and see the true picture of who they are. They are the 60 year olds, who have just been laid off indefinitely and have lost their pensions, the single mothers with minimum wage jobs who cannot afford to pay their rent, etc…..I could go on. Simply put…they are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, someone’s friend, uncle or aunt who we need to reach out to and not judge!

  4. While I agree with your intent I would like to add the media has served a crucial role in increasing empathy and helped us to educate the community in ways we may not be able to without them. What is crucial is that media treat all people and their circumstances with respect – that is truly an art and a gift to all of us. For these rare artists I am grateful.
    Christine Lollar
    Director of Homelessness Resources
    United Way of Kern County

  5. Heidilynn says:

    Good and evil know no bounds. One who has good finances, etc., may have worked hard for themselves, or may have cheated everyone to got to the top. Same concept applies to the homeless. Some are regular people that had it rough (or got completely screwed by one of the takers mentioned above) and some will end up right back into a mess that got them there in the first place, based on greed. I have been closer to either ends of the spectrum during the course my life. I have been chased out of a Taco Bell parking lot for begging because I was hungry. Did I get myself there? I don’t know, but I was 17. t is so subjective, but it is true, that just because one is homeless, does not make one crazy, inferior, ignorant, etc. I met one guy who lived behind Radio Shack who was building a boat back there and had a pure bred dog. Take someone’s home and/or car away and it is a BITCH to get back on your feet. I am nearly on mine. I started from scratch again four years ago. I finally feel normal.