People First. Homeless Second. What it Feels Like to Not Be Seen.

By United Way of King County, on May 21, 2014 | In Fighting Homelessness

Think about the last time you walked down the street and saw someone who was homeless. What did you see? Or did you really look?

For most for us it is far easier to turn away than to truly look at someone experiencing homelessness. Looking and seeing can be really difficult. People who are homeless remind us how fragile our lives really are. They remind us that there are people in our community–men, women, children and families–that struggle everyday simply to survive. They remind us that in a community as successful and compassionate as ours there are still some people we struggle to help. They remind us how cruel the world can sometimes be.

Sometimes it’s just easier not to look.

People describe the experience of homelessness as devastating and dehumanizing. Over and over again we hear homeless people tells us that being homeless is like being invisible. That they are no longer seen as people. They tell us that they are seen as homeless first and as people second.

United Way of King County’s Annual Breakfast was on May 15th. Speakers at the Breakfast talked about United Way’s progress around ending homelessness and the challenges we’ve faced.

Father Steve Sundborg, President of Seattle University, spoke passionately about the lives of people in our community who experience homelessness. He spoke of their struggle to maintain their dignity and respect. Father Sundborg said:

A newborn child looks instinctively to find his or her mother’s eyes, wanting to be seen lovingly, because only by being seen can the child find his or her identity.

Being seen is the most fundamental need of all of us always. The homeless even more than most need to be seen.  In tent cities, in shelters, on corners, in transitional housing, in food lines, the homeless, even more than a roof over their head—which they do need—need to be seen in their humanity, to count in their dignity, to be perceived with respect.”

Ending homelessness is complex and challenging. But connecting with someone who is experiencing homelessness doesn’t have to be. We need to look. To see. And to embrace people experiencing homelessness as members of our community.

The next time you see someone on the street who is homeless take a minute to look them in the eye. To say “hello.” To remind them that they too are just like the rest of us. Simply human.


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