When you encounter someone who is sleeping on a sidewalk, covered in filth and tattered clothes, what do you do? What do you think? The common answer in our society is to keep walking, do not make eye contact, and hope that person doesn’t follow you. We are afraid that we will put our self at risk, even in danger, if we stop to help. Our perceptions lead us to quickly label these individuals as inadequate human beings who are dangerous, unruly, and worthless. These perceptions are unfair and often untrue. People who are homeless are just that, they are without a home. Being without a home doesn’t make them a murderer, a thief, or a loser. Unfortunately, some of those without a home turn to violence and crime as a way to provide and as a way to survive. If you were forced to sleep on the street, scramble to find your next meal, and struggle to stay warm and dry, what would you do? I am in no way condoning or accepting the behavior, but we must understand the real story before we pass judgement.
“There is much suffering in the world- physical, material, mental. The suffering of some can be blamed on the greed of others. The physical and material suffering is suffering from hunger, from homelessness, and from all kinds of disease. But the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.” – Mother Teresa
Those that live on the streets are often alone. Life circumstances, choices, and bad decisions have led to a loss of a home, money, and family. They are fighting daily to survive while always looking out for number one. Through our volunteer experiences we have learned about great organizations and individuals who work tirelessly to help provide for the homeless. This week’s volunteer experience was no different. Street Reach for the Homeless has a mission to provide for the homeless on the streets of Fort Wayne. All of the work is done by Sally Segerson, founder of the street reach program. She was exposed to the social injustices of the homeless and witnessed many individuals who fell through the cracks of organizational help. She found this to be unacceptable and decided to take action.
Every Monday night, Sally drives her van to a small park in downtown Fort Wayne where she provides a meal for those living on the streets. The food is placed along a cement wall in buffet style and each individual serves themselves. All of the food that Street Reach provides is donated by individuals and businesses within our community. The individuals enjoy a nice meal and get much-needed nourishment. Nourishment for the stomach, nourishment for the mind, and nourishment for the soul. The backyard cookout atmosphere brings people together in conversation, builds and strengthens relationships, and promotes a “play nice” atmosphere. This meal helps fight the feelings of loneliness that can plague those on the streets. People are together talking, laughing, and telling stories. We laughed and enjoyed our conversations about sports, politics, and school alma maters. One man was pleased to hear that Kelsi went to the same middle school as he. They talked about the school chant, teachers, and Warrior Pride. After the meal was complete, clothes were handed out to those who were in need. Shirts, pants, shoes, and blankets were given out during our time volunteering. We could tell that each and every individual appreciated Sally and all that she does for them. It was obvious from our viewpoint as well that Sally cares for all of her friends on the streets. We enjoyed our evening at “Dinner and Duds” and are very gracious to have had the opportunity to see many of our friends on the streets again.
Being homeless does not cause one to lose spirit. We witnessed this first hand this week. We heard many stories that were gut-wrenching tales of struggle and pain. What we didn’t hear, or see, was complaining or broken spirits. Those on the streets have endured a lifetime of challenges, but many remain positive to improving their life situation. They smile. They fight. They push forward down the path of life. This gave me a great perspective and a fresh reminder a few days after I lost my job of fourteen years. I lost my job. Not my home. Not my family. Not my life. If my friends on the streets can fight each and every day to survive, so can I. Street Reach for the Homeless is positively impacting our community every week. It is people like Sally who inspire me to continue our mission of giving. She witnessed a need, she took action, and she is changing the world. Why can’t you do the same?