Why do people live without a home? Most people with homes think living on the street is a choice. When I take the time to sit with someone who doesn’t have a home, I find that their reason is as unique as they are. Two cases in point, a woman named Jen and a man named Atsa.
Jen was at an intersection that I pass on my way home from church. Her long brown hair cascaded over a long brown coat as she attempted to pick up five cloth grocery bags filled with her life. I thought, “How in the world is she going to cross the street with those?” I rolled down my passenger window and called out, “Do you want a ride?” She came to my car with a smile. “Actually, I just need a dollar to get a bus pass.” I smiled back and answered, “I would give you a dollar if I had one – I just gave my dollars to the mission fund at church. However, I do have a car that can give you a ride.” So she agreed and piled all her belongings in the back seat of my little red car. As we talked, she told me her story. She is from the northeast where she worked as a legal assistant for a law firm. Because of the economy, her position was downsized. While trying to find another job, she parked her truck in the wrong space and it got impounded. Without her truck or a job, she lost her apartment. She came to Santa Fe to see if her art work would sell. I bought three of her prints – they are lovely, full of color and hope. She told me as I dropped her off at her destination that she didn’t want to be homeless and that she has skills to offer if only someone would take a chance on her. After we hugged goodbye, I saw appreciation in her eyes. I wonder if she realized she gave me more than I gave her.
Atsa hangs out by what the homeless in Santa Fe call “The Rock.” I bought him some pizza in exchange for a conversation about his life and what he would think about a place called Solace Village. He is a 22-year-old Navajo with family in Colorado. He has a jagged scar on his neck from a couple of years ago when he tried to take his life with a broken bottle. The telling of that terrible experience brought tears to my eyes – the despair, the hopelessness he felt that night could be seen in his eyes. He has reasons to live now, he says. He wants to go to school for ecology and sustainability. He’s worked for a company that built solar panels and it sparked an interest in him that he would like to pursue. Without a home or a computer, going to school would be nearly impossible. So Atsa does what he can to earn money so that he can pay for his future. At the rate of a few dollars a day, he may be an old man before his dreams come true.
Why do these two beautiful souls live out under the sky instead of under a roof? Can we warm ourselves in the cold of winter and not think of them? When it rains hard at night, I think of Jen and Atsa, wondering where they are and how they are coping with their circumstances. They are stronger than I am, this I know. I admire their tenacity and their ability to hope for a brighter future despite the daily challenges of living without a home.
This is why I want Solace Village to become a reality. These are two people who would thrive in a community environment. Jen could do work in the office and Atsa could be studying for his classes. They would be loved, supported, and encouraged. And neither of them would be out in the rain.
So next time you see a homeless person, remember that he or she has a story about why they are where they are. Take some time to stop and listen, to look into their eyes and see into their heart. Maybe, just maybe, you will find a part of yourself in there. If you can help yourself, you can help them.