Homeless Hellos

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I pass them frequently in the mid-sized city where I live.  They stand on busy street corners or freeway exit ramps —  ragged looking people holding signs cut from discarded cardboard boxes.  Signs that read, “Will Work for Food”, “Homeless and Hungry”, “Anything Helps” and other phrases with a similar theme.  I’ve been told that these people are scammers, that this has become what they do in lieu of a real job, that they will spend any money given to them on alcohol or drugs, that many of them aren’t even homeless. Even setting aside those judgments, I had conditioned myself to look away in case they were for real. If they were that desperate, I didn’t want to have to look at them and not contribute, not help. Then I read something that felt extremely poignant about the homeless — and I do believe there are many of these people — becoming faceless and dehumanized in our society.  After reading about the author’s experience, I decided to try her experiment:  Rather than looking straight ahead and pretending not to see the fragmented person on the street corner, instead to look that person in the eye — not with anger or any evaluation, but as a fellow human being.  It hasn’t been an easy for me but so far I think the results are interesting.  Every single one of the people with whom I have made eye contact and at whom I have looked gently, have either smiled — or both smiled and waved — at me.  Not one has stretched out their hand or verbally asked for anything more.  People have softened, no one has been threatening. What I did was, as the song says, try a little tenderness.  And it hasn’t cost a thing — except maybe some of my prejudice.

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