This weekend I was required to go on a field trip for grad school called the Rochester Reality Tour. As described to me, our class (along with any community members or surrounding schools who wished to participate) would get on a school bus head to downtown Rochester with a few scheduled stops. The trip is designed to be bring awareness to the situation in downtown Rochester – a lot of homelessness, substance/alcohol abuse and among so many others.
Our tour guide (but not really) was an older black man who used to be homeless. He told us his story while driving through downtown and this man truly amazed me. He lost his job over ten years ago, lost his apartment, kicked out of the homes of his family members and turned to the streets. He was able to explain what it means to be homeless in Rochester in such a way that opens your eyes to how some people just fall without a parachute.
I have been so guilty of passing so many homeless people on the street avoiding eye contact, not giving money assuming that my money would be used for alcohol or drugs and that it is the fault of the person of being on the street. It’s definitely not the case. With the man who was showing us around, he was able to tell us that living on the streets brings people to a point of desperation that is so difficult to imagine. People on the streets abuse drugs not because there’s nothing better to do, but can you imagine for being on the street for years with no relief in sight? I have no idea what type of stress that brings and what it would bring me to do. The part that struck a chord with me was our guide saying that the most hurtful thing a person can do is to pretend the homeless is invisible. Part of the reason why Rochester has a true problem with so many people living on the street is because so many people turn a blind eye to it. If I cover my eyes, it’s not really there, right? Wrong. A friendly hello, a smile and yes, possibly some change is enough to bring that person happiness that you or I have never felt.
Many homeless people actually have jobs, but so many owe so much money for varies reasons that most of their wages are garnished and they can never make enough to get off the street. We stopped by The House of Mercy which is homeless shelter downtown. What is special about this particular shelter is that no form of ID is needed to come inside to eat. It was started by a nun in 1985 and has been running ever since. It has provides shelter and food to over million people since it began. I learned so many shelters have so many stipulations before you get a bed or a hot meal that ends up hurting homeless person in need. House of Mercy leaves the door unlocked 24/7 and anyone is welcome. The shelter runs purely on donations and the support of volunteers from the community.
I don’t declare myself an expert on poverty after one experience, but I am more aware of the needs of the community in which I live. We all need to do a better job at checking our privilege and realize that although we may have had a bad day, we struggle with not knowing what to have for dinner or that our iPhone died, there is someone in our own community that unsure of where their next meal will come from. I have not done this tour justice in this blog post, but checkout the website and see what you can do in your own community to give a helping hand.