Encounter with stranger gives human face to homelessness

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Encounter with stranger gives human face to homelessness

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The other day, I was stopped on the street by a woman who is homeless. Unfortunately, this is a statement that almost any student in an urban setting could say on any given day. It is no secret that homelessness is a problem in our country, but in my time at SLU, I think I have really begun to understand the gravity of it.

I find it so beneficial to live in the city of St. Louis, but it also means that we cannot simply turn our heads and ignore our neighbors. The Jesuit mission, and the mission of SLU, calls for an inclusion of all based on the dignity of the human person.

I think that sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget that the man under the blankets, or the woman rocking on a bench from the cold, are humans who deserve respect.

I am not saying that it is never hard to walk down the street getting badgered, and there is a certain barrier of trust over whether or not to give people who are homeless money; however, I have found that taking the time to walk with, and not past, to talk to, and not just about, the homeless in the community has given me great insights on life and the human person.

So, the woman who stopped me the other day. She was carrying a large hiking backpack, and was layered in dilapidating clothes. She had a look of pure exhaustion in her eyes, but she was adamant on talking to my friend and me. What she said really stuck with me. She said that she never asks college kids for money because she knows that they do not carry cash, but she wanted to make it very clear to us that the education we are receiving is power.

She never even shared her name, but she told us to remember her face when we finish our degrees, because we have to power to fix the situation of her and countless others.

It really makes you think about how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be receiving such an amazing education. There are so many people in this world, going through all different scopes of pain, suffering, sorrow, happiness, love or freedom, and it is really a thought that is hard to handle.

Instead of simply being baffled or overstressed about the immensity of variability in this world, I propose—and urge—us as students to just be grateful for all opportunity we have. We do have such an amazing power that comes with knowledge, and I know I want to use it to its fullest.

What does this mean exactly? Well, you know that peer in class who “takes notes” on their computer every class in some really interesting method, like iMessage or Facebook, and the person next to you who you turn your pages extra loud in the attempt to stop from drooling on your desk? Do not be that person.

Be the student who is conscious of the education they are receiving. Be the student who is curious and scrutinizes the information they learn. Be the student who is thoughtful, and present, and cares. Its something that takes effort, and it isn’t something that is necessarily easy. But with an opportunity like this, at the cost and sacrifice it takes to get it, nothing could be more worth it.

The other side of this message is that it is not worth it to live in a bubble. Homelessness is not a problem that will be solved overnight, so while we are fighting to end it, do not ignore those who suffer from it. Try to practice seeing instead of staring, conversing instead of muttering an apology, and stepping out of your comfort zone instead of staying trapped in a tightly packed and static box.

Living in an urban setting gives us the opportunity to experience the “real world“ throughout our college careers, so make the most of it. Be inspired by the world and community around us. Talk to people of all ethnicities, socio-economic statuses and backgrounds—especially those different from your own!—because you never know what’s going to inspire you.