There are certain areas of cities we avoid. Skid Row. The Tenderloin. Harlem. Pioneer Square. They are the areas you’d rather not go at night. They are the areas where you lock your car doors for safety. They are also the areas where you find a large homeless population.
What’s interesting is that it’s not the area of town we avoid; it’s really the people in that area of town we avoid. How often have you walked past an individual holding a sign asking for help and avoid eye contact? How many times have you crossed to the other side of the street to avoid a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk? How often have you thought, “They just want money to buy alcohol.”?
They are the ignored and avoided.
But what is it aside from their lack of permanent housing that makes us so uncomfortable? I’m convinced it’s not the person we’re uncomfortable with rather we’re uncomfortable with the situation they’ve found themselves in. Think about it. So easily we could end up in the same spot on the sidewalk if not for…if not for what? Many homeless men and women have graduated from high school or earned their GED, most have family they are still in touch with, some even maintain regular jobs.
And yet they are ignored and avoided. We turn the other way; we hope someone else will help them; we pretend like they don’t exist and keep walking.
I wish there was a silver bullet, a magic serum or sorts that would cure both sides of this equation. That somehow we could be bold enough to look a homeless man or woman in the eye and offer assistance. And that somehow that assistance really would be enough to get the ignored and avoided off the street.
In January 2010 volunteers stopped ignoring and avoiding and instead counted 8,559 homeless individuals living on the streets and in shelters in Seattle and King County as part of the 30th annual One Night Count. Of that, 2,759 were staying in unsheltered areas—huddled in doorways, sleeping in cars, camped in green spaces or sheltered in makeshift campsites. An estimated 5,800 more were staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing.
As part of the effort, Bread of Life Mission has launched the Each Person Counts campaign as a stand against homelessness. The individually numbered t-shirts sold as part of the campaign sponsor one homeless person for a night inside their shelter in downtown Seattle. It may not seem like much, but the impact truly is when you consider that this person receives a hot meal, a bed to sleep on, a warm place to rest and the opportunity to hear the Word of God. Union Gospel Mission, as well as Bread of Life, both have extensive programs to care and minister to individuals whatever situation they are facing.
There are many, many other ways and organizations that we can partner with that we can stop ignoring and avoiding. The opportunities abound from one-time service to ongoing commitment. I encourage you to get involved!
Please check out this video about the Each Person Counts campaign.