homeless-2BY RACHEL KELSO

May 11, 2015

As spring rolls around, flowers are waking up, children are spending more time outside, and orange construction cones line the streets all across Chicago. People are breathing in warmer air and dusting off their patio furniture. Everyone seems to be happier. As the weather gets warmer, it seems we start to forget about our neighbors who are still looking for a place to call home.

In the freezing cold of the winter, it’s a little easier to make room in our hearts for those less fortunate. Especially around Christmas, we donate more of our time, effort, and money to food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. We sponsor families and buy them Christmas gifts. We join in campaigns to make sure there is enough warm housing for all. But what happens in the spring? Just because the weather is warmer doesn’t mean the struggle has been removed. In fact, without all the attention turned to the poor and homeless, they might struggle the most during this time.

Growing up, my mother always told me that if I saw a homeless person, I should buy them food instead of giving them money. While the intention is reasonable, I disagree with the implementation. I think that donating a dollar or two is perfectly responsible if you are unable to purchase groceries, rather than ignoring the person altogether. Ignoring humanity is not an option in my book.

Last summer, I was shopping in a wealthier neighborhood in Indianapolis. I came across two men and a dog with a sign asking for food and clean socks. I bought them these and sat down and spoke with them for a little while. When you treat a homeless person as a human instead of “a homeless person,” you learn a lot about them—and yourself. We spoke a little about our lives. They were incredibly kind. I discovered that I actually worked with a woman who was close friends with one of them. He told me how miserable the summers are—the unbearable heat, the lack of water, the way people crinkle their noses walking past as if body odor makes people more animalistic than human. I was heartbroken. The experience has stuck with me to this day, and I remain passionate about engaging on a personal level with “the homeless.”

Our impoverished brothers and sisters are not impoverished only from November to February. We must work year round to improve the quality of life for all members of our communities. This doesn’t mean we simply dole out a sandwich or a buck here and there, because there are structures in place that actively work to disempower the poor and maintain their lower socioeconomic status. This is what we must work against in a political arena. We must advocate for programs, community centers, free or reduced cost classes, and other strategies to empower our neighbors and ensure a world where no one suffers, whether it’s December or July.

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