Posted on October 12, 2010
This week’s blog was written by Cristina Wood, one of VSH’s fall communications interns.
Every year, Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless Program sponsors a walkathon in D.C. The goal is to register as many walkers as possible, and to use the proceeds to fund their fight to prevent homelessness. But how do people who are homeless feel about this?
A couple years ago, I participated in the walk. For two and half miles, a throng of people march from Independence Avenue towards the Tidal Basin, and the year I happened to participate, it was pouring down rain. I walked along the route with some of my friends amongst the massive crowd, upset that I was drenched from head to toe. But I quickly remembered the reason we were walking –the people who have to sit outside in this rain every day because they don’t have a place to call home.
As I was nearing the finish line on the National Mall and the rain was easing up, the group I was with came upon a strip of sidewalk where at least 10 homeless people were asking for change. I watched as walker after walker, dressed in their unmistakable fluorescent orange “Help the Homeless” t-shirts, walked past these peoples’ outstretched hands and ignored them. They acted like they didn’t even exist.
One man sitting on the sidewalk began to yell, “You’ll walk for me, but you can’t spare a quarter? I walk day in, day out, how is you walking going to change anything?” Mumbles and groans of agreement from some of the other people around him heightened in volume.
I was disheartened that this man singlehandedly discounted what all of us were trying to do in one fell swoop. He couldn’t see that we were helping him indirectly, and that the money we all raised to walk was going to provide more programs and services for him. But from his perspective, a horde of people promenading through D.C. does not put food in his stomach or a roof over his head tonight.
However, although many of us give money to people who are homeless out of compassion, it often has the opposite effect of perpetuating their homelessness. So what is the right response? Rather than giving money, why not offer a sandwich or a few encouraging words? Direct them to shelters or programs they can take advantage of. Many organizations like VSH dedicate their time to making services available to the people who are homeless, and panhandlers should be be made aware of these options instead of prolonging their time on the streets. Donating your time or money to organizations like VSH is much more beneficial and effective in the long run.
Nonetheless, homeless people are just like you and me. We must not act like they are eyesores in our city’s scenery nor should we dehumanize them by pretending like they are not even there. It is a commendable act to donate to charities or help organizations indirectly, but showing you care about the homeless as you walk past them on the sidewalk is a whole different level of compassion. It gives them hope, which may be just what they need to get through another day.