The words “I feel like I’m invisible” were scrawled on the spiral bound notepad that the kid held over his head as he sat cross-legged and disheveled in front of the QFC on Holman Road last Friday. As my son and I walked into the store I told him he wasn’t invisible, that I could in fact see him. He didn’t say anything, but he cracked the slightest smile as we passed.
I thought about that kid after I heard a story on KUOW [read or listen to it here] about the Tossey family’s struggle to find stable housing.
What was his story? Did he experience homelessness when he was growing up? Does he duck out of school sometimes because he’s embarrassed to show up in the same clothes day after day? Maybe he’s not even homeless. Who am I to speculate or judge?
I think that’s the hardest and most uncomfortable part about homelessness as it exists today, the not knowing. Not knowing what to believe, not knowing who to help or how to help them. Not knowing what to say to my son…it can get overwhelming pretty quickly and is easier to just not think about it, to focus on things I feel I can more directly impact.
But then I remember Father Steve’s powerful presentation at last year’s breakfast about the importance of really SEEING people who are homeless. Looking them in the eye, acknowledging they are people. Feeling invisible is persistent for people experiencing homelessness, and it turns out there is something I can do about that for each homeless individual I come in contact with. I can see them. I can acknowledge that they are a person by letting them know I see them.
As a community we’ve ended homelessness for thousands of people in the past 10 years, real people, with real smiles and real stories. Homelessness is a difficult crisis facing communities across this country. But it turns out we know how to help, both with large scale community solutions like we are doing with our Crisis Response work, and in single solitary ways that each of us can make a difference for people who have no place to call home.
The sad part is I care enough to write all of this, and I think about it all of the time. But when Aiden and I walked out of that QFC, with our groceries for the weekend, I don’t remember seeing that kid, and what’s worse is I forgot to look.