While driving down Pearl Street and politely nodding to the men sitting on the sidewalk, I feel guilty. When sleeping in my comfortable bed and listening to the rain tapping outside, I feel guilty. As I talk to a man who was literally sleeping on the street two months ago about my apple preferences (Pink Lady), I feel guilt. I feel guilty because I am able to afford to drive to work when others are sitting in the sun to keep warm. I feel guilty because I have a nice place to stay with people who care about me. I feel guilty because I pick and choose what kind of apples I eat when I should be grateful for eating at all.
Don’t be mistaken, the concept of homelessness is not new to me. I grew up around (not in) homelessness. My mother volunteered at our local soup kitchen (Martha & Mary’s Ministry). I can remember being taught how to draw from a homeless man in the public dining room and talking to a homeless woman about my petty grievances. I never really considered why they were at a soup kitchen every day or what their life outside must be like. Likes birds and buildings, they just existed. After starting my job at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, with a very fancy title of Development Communications Coordinator, my perspective started to change. These people didn’t “just exist.” They weren’t part of the scenery for my child self, they are humans who I interact with on a daily basis and I feel guilty for being a “have” when they are “have nots.”
I am not saying that my feelings are “correct” or the “right thing” to feel. But that does not change that it is true. It is this same guilt that makes every single one of us awkwardly avert our eyes when we see someone sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign. My intention is not to force you to join me in my guilt; I just want you to understand how I feel every day that I come in to work at SBRM. The feeling gnaws at me and it inspires me. I can’t change how I feel but I can change how it makes me act. I can dedicate my time, skills, and money to making a difference. Instead of hiding from my guilt I am trying to embrace it in order to push myself to be a better person.
I truly hope that you don’t feel guilty for being a “have” in a “have not” world. But if you are a kindred spirit and you do feel the same way that I do then I pray you will put those feelings to good use. Give of your time to volunteer: look the people that you avoid on the street in the eye and smile. Use your skills: if you have the gift of teaching come down to our 13th street mission and help a man get his GED. Utilize your resources by giving to our Food Drive or donate money to the Mission. Guilt is unavoidable. It is what we do with it that matters.