“Be as passionate about listening as you are about wanting to be heard.” – Brené Brown
Many people observe the week before Thanksgiving as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. It’s a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for, and to consider how we might use our resources to help neighbors in need.
The approaches are diverse. While some meditate on their own privilege and how they could help financially, others arrange canned food drives and winter coat collections. Many find time to educate their children, friends or students about the causes and effects of homelessness and food insecurity — as well as how they might help solve it.
But try as we might, hunger and homelessness aren’t topics we can fully understand without experiencing them. No amount of pondering, research or reading can teach us those feelings of hardship, stress and isolation.
That’s why it’s vital for men and women struggling with homelessness, poverty, addiction and other issues to have a voice they can use to help us understand — to begin a dialogue about the impact these issues have on their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
And it’s important we listen, as they are the only true experts on the matter.
Here’s what some of them had to say about their experiences being hungry, homeless and alone:
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Along this sojourn I’ve been on, I’ve gotten quite sad and discouraged — there have been times that I’ve just given up. That’s easy to do when you end up in this situation. But the staff I’ve met are great people. They’re doing great things here and really trying to help. I’m glad this facility is here. It has helped so many people. I’m grateful for a place to stay, classes you can take, food to eat and all kinds of other stuff that’s here.”
– Shelly, shelter guest
“I camped for two years on Patty Jewett Golf Course and made a survival shack with wood, cardboard, mud, dirt and trees. I had a sleeping bag, and it was just enough for me to keep warm through two winters. … I felt safe when I was by myself. … But even when I was homeless and addicted to methamphetamine, I was always trying to love on others. … I had a backpack, and I knew where to get food. … So, I’d walk around with pizza in my backpack and hand it out to other homeless people.”
– Shawn, NLP graduate
“I decided it would be easier for me to live on the streets and wonder whether I’d be beaten up, [rather than] stay there and know I would be. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I lived alone in my car, which wasn’t ideal as a woman.”
– Kellee, formerly homeless employee
“I was homeless and starving, living in a shelter and working for a food bank during the day. We unloaded boxes full of delicious food all day long, but I wasn’t allowed to take any of it for myself. I couldn’t eat a single bite. The most ironic thing is that I was the most hungry I’ve ever been — the kind of hungry that messes with your thinking and every other aspect of your day.”
– Jim, shelter guest
“I got sick and ended up having to have four gallbladder surgeries. They say you’re just a paycheck away from being homeless. Well, I was three. It happened slowly, but it happened nonetheless. I didn’t know how to stop it. … There are so many different ways you could end up here.”
– Mary, shelter guest
“I violated people’s trust, and that resulted in me having no place to live at all. I ended up alone and became someone destined to end up in a shelter. … The stress of being homeless is immense — it hurts just to survive. You’re freezing cold and angry with yourself and dwelling on the situation that got you there.”
– Ross, sober living resident
“I was on the streets in my car. I’m 73 now and this is the first time for me being homeless. It’s been a real challenge, but I’m not giving up. … It’s making me stronger; it makes me grow.”
– Hannah, shelter guest
“I put on a backpack and just started roaming the streets. … I was in a dark place. I was giving up. And then came the meth. I quit drinking. But I just replaced it with meth. … I stayed in laundry rooms of apartment buildings and all kinds of stuff. I was in my forties and becoming a zombie. I was eating out of trash cans.”
– Michael, NLP graduate
“Me and my wife were on the streets and we were starving. It was unemployment that really kept me on streets a lot, and then it became drug use. Then, even when I did have a job, I’d just spend all of my money on drugs. … I was out there on the streets and camping for a long time — in the snow, the rain, all of that. It wasn’t the kind of life I wanted for us.”
– Tyrone, formerly homeless employee