At HomePDX, there is one element that is both one of the hardest and one of the most beautiful parts of my work: listening to stories. Listening to the stories of my friends living outside, I have heard stories of beauty and life and pain and hopelessness. In the last week, I have sat and listened as someone told how they were losing hope of ever getting out of where they are at, and I sat and listened as an older gentleman recited a five-minute poem full of hope that he had written himself. I have heard stories that made me laugh, and ones that made me cry. And it is through these stories that many widely circulating myths about people living outside begin to break down, and show just how complex the issue of houselessness can be.
What is it about stories that make them so powerful? I think stories have the ability to break down walls in our relationships. They invite us in a small way into someone’s life. They can challenge our views about why someone is where they are at. As a middle class person, I have never had first hand experience with what it is like to live with a label like “homeless.” In fact, as a middle class white male, I have not had to deal with very much oppression at all. Yet as I listen to the stories of my friends living outside, I am let in a little into their lives, and experience in a small way what they have experienced. While this does not take away the reality of my own power and privilege, it does help me take a step further down the road of being a better friend and advocate for my friends living outside.
I encourage you this week to listen more. Listen to the stories around you. More specifically, I encourage you to listen to those living outside in your community. As you are walking around, make an effort to stop and talk with someone when they ask you for change. Say hello to someone holding a sign, and ask them how they are. Or better yet, offer to buy them some coffee or a meal, and sit with them. And listen. Another reason stories are powerful is that we have to be close to someone to hear them. And the more we can get out of our comfort zones and close to those who often feel invisible in our society, the better our communities will be. And it often starts with listening to others stories.