What does it means to be “in community” with others and those that are homeless and needy in our urban and suburban neighborhoods? In counseling those in private practice and providing community outreach, I often question what brings about greater reciprocal positive engagement with homeless people we encounter; beyond providing money or donations. How can spending time with others in need and giving them our presence allow for mutual benefit?
Programs that aim to meet such basic needs such as food, clothing, respite, and linkages to services are so essential. There is a social justice imperative to assist and provide for the sake of a healthy community but there is also something that can be unacknowledged. Perhaps engaging with those that are in need allows us to tap into something greater in ourselves.
I live in a small city that has become home to many without adequate housing. The city shelter cannot provide space for all, and the lack of affordable housing squeezes people of lesser income out. There is great disparity in the town between those who have wealth and those that are struggling financially to simply get basic needs met. The requests for money on the streets are frequent, and with it, I find there exists a difficult decision: i.e. How to interact with others in need, when there are realistic demands on our time and resources? But, also when there are understandable feelings of fear, suspicion, and anger, of the unknown or a discomfort with seeing others in such distress?