Four Things the Homeless Do Better
By John Sather & Milton Massie
On any given night in the United States, 564,708 people are homeless. Of that number, 206,286 are families. While you may feel extremely different from a homeless person with whom you come in contact, you are probably more alike than you think. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that families most often become homeless as a result of an unexpected financial crisis. Most of us have experienced a similar situation—an accident or unfortunate surprise bill. Just because we were able to hold on to our housing does not make us any “better” than the people who live on the street. In fact, here are four things the homeless do better than the rest of us.
1. Give generously
It may seem odd to think of the homeless, in their physical poverty, as being capable of great generosity. The truth is, their generosity is frequent and made even more beautiful because of their situation. In the face of daily uncertainty, most people tighten their purse strings. Yet for those struggling with homelessness, we often see the exact opposite.Frequently a dollar, meal or set of clothes they were given will find its way into the hands of someone who has a more pressing need for it. Their generosity is never calculated but always costly in the face of incredible adversity.
2. Show incredible resourcefulness
Problem solving is a way of life for those struggling with homelessness. With extremely limited resources and few networks, deciphering bus lines and times, shelter openings and closings, safe locations, where the next meal is coming from and other unique challenges are all displays of their incredible resourcefulness.
3. Appreciate a smile
A smile is a simple and universal way to communicate with everyone—from a boss to a barista and, of course, for the ones we love. Each smile is meant to show a certain level of respect, affection or appreciation. When a truly genuine smile comes our way, we notice. The homeless have even more appreciation for a genuine smile. Often, people avoid eye contact with them, leaving them feeling invisible and unimportant. Living on the street or in a shelter does wonders for shedding pretense, giving the homeless a heart and eyes hungrier for and more capable of soaking in the warmth and fondness of a good smile.
4. Express gratitude
Our hearts need to be trained to be grateful. For those with security and plenty of resources, it is easy to take things for granted. A grateful heart often takes a consistent and conscious effort to develop. The hardness of life that comes from poverty and the insecurity of homelessness conditions the heart to be abundantly grateful. When the homeless say “thanks”—for a smile, a meal or some change—they truly mean it. Homeless men and women face the ugliness of their situation and have seen the beauty of a life built on giving and receiving.
While winter lingers, the homeless are especially vulnerable. Let us not forget the hundreds of thousands of families and children living on America’s streets. We are more like our homeless neighbors than makes us comfortable. You can purchase a Homeless Care Kit, containing gloves, socks, a blanket and hygiene items, here.
As we help the homeless in our cities, remember we have something to learn from them, too.
Milton Massie and John Sather are the national co-directors of the inner city ministry of Cru, which operates in cities throughout the United States.