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Reading the signs of homelessness
November 20, 2012

You know the feeling. You pull up to an intersection or a freeway ramp. There’s someone standing there near your window. The cardboard sign reads: Homeless and broke. Homeless, anything helps. Homeless. God Bless.


My reaction’s predictable: I glance over from behind my sunglasses. I squirm a little, hoping the light changes soon. I feel discomfort knowing that if I shell out a few bucks or a bus card it’s only a short term fix. (Hubby keeps bus cards on board for just such occasions.) What if they buy cigarettes or beer, not food? (And yes, I just saw this: I need a drink. And food.) On the other hand, a little cash could buy a night of shelter or a meal. 

The point is that whether or not I decide to give something to that person at that moment, I should feel pretty darn uncomfortable that people resort to begging for my spare change. That there aren’t enough homes for everyone, that rental vacancies are scarce and rents rising, that a plethora of barriers — from untreated mental illness or alcoholism, to astronomical medical bills, to domestic abuse, to widespread home foreclosures — stand between many people and housing stability.

Let your discomfort be your guide and pick an action, any action.

  1. Watch. People with signs make homelessness visible, literally, but many others, like those whose stories appear on Invisible People TV aren't as easy to spot.
  2. Read. Like the guy on the corner with a sign, Wilder Research reports on homelessness in Minnesota are close to home and might make you feel uncomfortable but you can’t ignore the facts.
  3. Volunteer. Call us to find out how you or your congregation can help serve homeless families or individuals.
  4. Step up. Get ready for the January legislative session by making sure you know who represents you in the Minnesota House and Senate, and their history of supporting policies and funding to end homelessness. Put their numbers in your cell phone and their emails in your address book.
  5. Be kind. If you’re so moved, why not offer a couple of bucks, or a bus card or grocery gift card to someone who's asking, or maybe just look them in the eye and say hello.

 -- Kris Berggren