Ending homelessness requires a relational approach. As we quarantine physically, it is important that we don’t lose our compassion for our homeless neighbors.
We can all agree that 2020 has tested our resiliency. There have been so many events and tragedies that have broken our hearts, it can feel overwhelming. We’ve all been doing what we can to adjust to a new “normal,” and many of us have isolated and worked hard to protect ourselves.
We should flip things around and focus on those less fortunate. Rather than growing discouraged at the size of the humanitarian homelessness crisis in our own backyard, I’m challenging us to look outward, to think of our wider community, and let the spiritual reality of caring for others truly change our communities — and ourselves.
One of the surprising spiritual truths of life is when we focus too much on ourselves, we actually become unhappier. Author Claire B. Willis’ recent Op-Ed in The Seattle Times [“Strength in sorrow: There is a path through grief to inner reserves and new possibilities,” Nov. 1, Opinion] rings true, that “sometimes all we can do is offer a random act of kindness to someone in our life and perhaps lighten their despair. In doing so, we lighten our own.”
In early 2020, King County estimated that there were more than 11,000 homeless individuals in the area, and their recent point-in-time numbers reported a slight increase. Seattle, the nation’s 17th largest city, has the third largest homelessness population, and it is a problem that continues to grow.
At Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, we witnessed families, who had to stretch their already tightened budgets, find some relief from the food boxes delivered through a coalition of more than 100 churches the Mission called Project 88. We launched Project 88 mid-April, at the beginning of the lockdowns, and in less than six months delivered more than 2 million pounds of food to families in need.
Homelessness is not a singular issue. While housing discussions and treatments centers are debated, our homeless neighbors need relationships, they need us, and they need you.
Now is not the time to keep compassion isolated and socially distanced. All of us will benefit if we resist the temptation to focus only on ourselves.
We often hear from Mission graduates that their road to recovery began when they saw our search-and-rescue van, and our staff stepped out with a warm smile and friendly greeting. Sure, a cup of coffee, or a blanket helps, as does an invitation to a warm bed, a warm meal or hot shower, but what they remembered most was that somebody stopped to care, to say hi, to say that they matter and that they are loved. It seems simple, but starting a relationship steeped in love and care, no matter the circumstances, truly makes a difference.
Our staff and many of our volunteers know that for our homeless neighbors, the Mission was their lifeline. That’s why our staff and volunteers felt the urgency to get back out as soon as they could. It was amazing to see the energy and love when our staff and volunteers could once again serve on the streets (following all COVID-19 guidelines, of course).
We also had volunteer mentors and counselors who met virtually with those in program and program graduates to help them move forward. The fact that someone was there and would be there spoke powerfully during a trying time.
No one in need should stand alone, and everyone can do something. As families are displaced or become homeless, send a personalized food basket, mobilize your church or any association you’re with to raise funds for masks, hygiene, clothing, shelter and food.
So much is written about the correlation between happiness, gratitude, thankfulness and giving. Touch the heart of the those in great need, and you’ll touch your own heart too.
Take care of yourself, but take care of others, too. Don’t let COVID-19 and 2020 quarantine your compassion.