Tag Archive: Homelessness


Mad World

I was just going through my “favorites” on YouTube and I ran across this dance (see below) from the most recent season (I think!) of So You Think You Can Dance.

This contemporary dance piece set to Gary Jules’ “Mad World” depicts a meeting between two very different men. One is poor, broken down, homeless and on the fringes of society. The other is a powerful business man in a tailored suit, who clearly has a purpose in his steps. Their situations are reflected in their dance styles and, in addition to the artistry of the dancing, there is a moment in the piece which speaks volumes about all of us. This moment shows us two men who have been in their own worlds, caught up in their own strikingly dissimilar stories, coming face-to-face only to realize that they were once friends.

After initial shock, they begin to dance in step, uniting through their shared past and in their common humanity. Only a short while thereafter, they go back to the way they were at the beginning of the dance – separated by situation, class, and economics.

How often do we turn a blind eye to others we encounter, remaining focused on our own “mad world” and situation? Do we ever dare to come face-to-face with others, or are we frightened of seeing amazing similarities in the face of someone apparently so different from us? Are we afraid to see ourselves in the face of someone we would prefer to keep at arm’s length (or even further away)? How can we begin to dance with others, uniting in love for one another as fellow humans?

Just a few thoughts before I head to homework land! 😉

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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Gifts in Disguise

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything, but I feel it’s important to write something today. A while ago, my coworker sent an e-mail to everyone in the office, asking for blankets, coats, hats, gloves and gift cards to distribute to the homeless people in our community. I thought this was a great idea, so my boyfriend and I gathered some clothes and I brought them to the office. Since I wanted to do something more “hands-on,” I offered to help my colleague pass out bags with gloves, Cosi gift cards and other items that had been donated.

We set out on yesterday with only eight plastic grocery bags between us, thinking that we’d be back to the office in a half an hour or so. We went to every place we had ever seen homeless people and we were shocked that we didn’t see anyone. It must have been so cold, that most people were already in shelters. We walked quite a bit, checking all of the places we could think of – street corners, bus stops, parks.

We were able to talk to two men, one of whom was the man with the poncho mentioned in my previous post. When my colleague approached him to ask if he needed warm clothes for the winter, he said “No, thank you. I really appreciate you offering, but I have enough already. I would like to extend my hand to you and wish you a Merry Christmas though.” I was completely and utterly shocked.

The next man we spoke with was sitting on the cold sidewalk, next to a shopping cart filled with what I can only assume was everything he owned. He, too, thanked us for the offer and said that he was fine.

My colleague and I were baffled. What about helping the needy? What about making someone’s day? I had set out thinking that I was going to help people in the community, hoping that I might make a tiny difference. Instead, I learned a much more valuable lesson.

I had always looked at homeless people skeptically, wondering where my change was going when I did decide to give to them. I had thought that most of them suffered from alcohol or drug abuse, or had mental illnesses. Perhaps this is true for many homeless, but in thinking about these things, I had somehow managed to shut out their humanity. I grouped everyone together, neglecting that these could be people who in another time and place, might be my friends.

In speaking with these men, I was jarred out of my misconceptions and back into reality. At the core, we all have the same needs, wants, desires. In my eagerness to help, I forgot the person I was trying to help – his pride, dignity and where he was coming from.

My colleague and I ended up donating the bags of clothing and gift cards to a nearby church which has an outreach in the community. On the way home from work that evening, my coworker handed out the two remaining gift cards to people he saw on the street. One of them was the man in the poncho. He accepted the card and, as a thank-you, pulled a Christmas card out of his backpack, signed it and handed it to my colleague.

We had expected to give of ourselves and out of the extra things we had, but generosity and thankfulness turned up in unexpected ways. Yet again, my perceptions were shattered. The one we thought had nothing gave us something of his along with a glimpse into a different side of homelessness – a very personal side. And so, I can only say “thank you, John,” for bringing things into perspective.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Signs

Today, driving along Rockville Pike, I witnessed a tragic paradox. As I waited, stopped at a stoplight, on one side of the street I saw three men twirling bright yellow signs in order to draw attention to some new condominiums. These men smiled and danced, tossed their signs in the air and spun around in order to draw attention.

On the other side, I saw a man in dirty clothes standing alone and holding another sign. He stood with his head hanging and his eyes downcast. His sign was old and worn, made with scribbled writing on rough cardboard.

On one corner, an invitation to strangers to come and buy. On the other, the humility of asking strangers for help.

One corner flashes a welcome and appeals to the needs and wants of others. The other quietly beckons for a listening ear and a little help – for the scraps from the drivers’ tables.

On one corner, the men stand in a group, socializing with one another in a socially acceptable job. On the other, a man stands as an outcast, left to fend for himself.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Homelessness

Working in Washington, DC is pretty fun. Besides the adventures one can have riding on the Metro, there are great restaurants, a mix of cultures, interesting events to attend, and, of course, a variety of happy hour spots.

However, not all people in DC, or in any major city for that matter, are able to enjoy these opportunities. Some do not even have access to the basic necessities of life. Every day, they have to figure out what they are going to do in order to survive. I have been fortunate enough that I have never had to ask myself, “how will I eat today?,” “what will I wear?” or “where can I sleep?” Instead, the question raised every time I encounter the homeless is, “how do we help?”

When people ask for money on the street, I am always faced with the dilemma: how will the money I give be spent? Will it feed an addiction, or help someone find food or shelter for a day? Or I think, why doesn’t he/she just go to a shelter or soup kitchen? I am ashamed to say that because of these questions, I do not always give money.

The reality is that we don’t really know the other person’s story or what he/she has been through. Instead, we work off of stereotypes and try not to think about the situation we’ve just walked around.

Today, I was walking back from picking up some copies I had made. On my way back to the office, I noticed a homeless man who often stands on the corner. He is always wearing a poncho, (he has different colored ones), and I’ve seen him in the summer and winter, burning sunshine and freezing rain. I’ve also heard him speaking with people before. In fact, one conversation I overheard was about college and going back to school. It made me wonder what his story was. All of this and I haven’t done anything to help him. Today, I actually shifted my wallet so that he wouldn’t see it and ask me for change. Pathetic.

One woman, however, did what I wished I could do. She was well-dressed in a tan suit with matching tan heels and had her hair done up. After I moved my wallet, I looked up and she was digging in her wallet for money. She handed him the money, smiled and, then, shocked me to the core. She reached her hand out, put it on his shoulder and leaned in toward his ear. From where I was, she could have kissed his cheek. If nothing else, she whispered something in his ear which will remain a secret between the two of them. She then smiled and walked away, looking even classier than when I first noticed her.

I reached the man a few paces later and he was putting the money away. He did not ask me for a thing.

http://www.hud.gov/homeless/index.cfm

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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