Lesson learned

For those of us living indoors, the hardest part of living outdoors can’t be felt in a day of helping or a weekend living on the streets. After hundreds of great conversations with my outdoor friends I’ve realized that finding a place to eat or sleep is not the hardest part. I’m not saying it’s easy, but something else is much more difficult: dealing with judgment.

My friends are constantly being judged and put down. Most common is the refusal of people to make eye contact or say anything when passing by. Also common are hostile glares and dodging around the person as if they are contagious. Then there are the refusals. You can’t sleep here. You can’t use our bathroom (it’s for customers only). You can’t come in here looking/smelling like that.

All of this is hard for us indoor folk to experience. Except I did, entirely by accident, get the slightest bit of a taste of what this feels like.

I stay overnight at a downtown church one night a week. I noticed one week that there was more garbage than usual on the sidewalks and in the planters. So I grabbed a garbage bag and started picking it up.

And the looks I got from people! They avoided me. They ignored my “hello” and “how are you” greetings. They looked down on me, crouched and picking up trash, like I was scum. And not just a few people. Everyone who passed by.

I’m thankful, too. Thankful that for thirty minutes I got an education. I got to feel a bit of what my friends feel. I can understand, from experience, what it’s like. A little.