Have the homeless become invisible?
This question is asked by a New York organization (NYC Rescue Mission) as part of their campaign, MakeThemVisible. Besides the touching video below, the website has a series of photos and quotes from “the real faces of the NYC homeless.” I’ve mentioned how crucial relationships are in addressing social issues. This campaign highlights this well.
To notice the people around us is key in bridging the social gap and helping erase the anonymity and indifference so often present on urban streets. We need to realize that “they” are important. But valuing a complete stranger doesn’t come easily, especially a homeless stranger. If we knew that a homeless person was family, of course we’d value them and no doubt go out of our way to offer presence and support. But many of us don’t have homeless family members. So we don’t bother looking. I can’t blame the people in the video. In many cases, that would be me.
Paying better attention, then, is a good start. We can realize the humanity all around us. Homelessness is about people, not an issue. But beyond paying attention as we engage our cities, this campaign points to a deeper question of human value: who deserves compassion? It’s one thing to look a homeless person in the eye. It’s quite another to show compassion. I’ve mentioned them before, but I’m inspired and challenged by groups like Jacob’s Well in Vancouver and 5&2 Ministries in my own town of Abbotsford because not only do they bring visibility to our homeless neighbours through advocacy, they show compassion through personal relationships. Visibility, I’m realizing, is most impactful in the context of friendship.
The clip ends with people going and embracing their family members on the street, a sign of relationship and compassion. The challenge is whether or not such a picture of compassion is possible for all people. May it be so...