Their Side of the Story

After speaking with numerous individuals experiencing homelessness, two classmates and I wanted to publish an article to shed light on their personal stories– because stories have the power to spark empathy and understanding.

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” 

 

I used to answer this question with a simple “invisibility”. I often imagined myself vanishing into thin air when my mom called me to do chores, sneaking past security guards to go backstage at concerts, and eavesdropping on a preconceived conversation to find out how my crush felt about me. How marvelous it would be to disappear for a few hours! 

 

But you see, my answer to this question, the scenarios that I daydreamed, and the pictures I painted in my head all viewed invisibility as a choice. It assumed that I could control if and when people saw me. But the fact of the matter is, invisibility is often a condition that one does not choose. Often, it is society’s reaction to a situation that they do not take the time to understand. 

 

I admit, I have turned a blind eye when I cross paths with someone experiencing homelessness. It's not that I didn't care. It was more so the fact that I, like so many others, have the privilege of removing myself from situations that make me feel uncomfortable. Because if I took a minute to look, to interact, to listen to their stories, I would see past the stigmas that overshadowed them. If I really looked and listened, I would have seen that they too are siblings, children, students, employees, athletes, and members of our community.  If I really looked and listened, I would have to admit that anyone could be faced with a situation that made their story  “invisible”, too. 

Taking time to sit down and meet these men opened up my heart to their stories and put a name to their faces. Once we open our hearts to their stories, that’s when we really see someone, and they are no longer invisible to us. They become the men and women they always were, but we never took the time to see. 

 

They can become survivors of their circumstance, and may no longer be imprisoned by the stigmas we place on them, such as being addicts, being lazy, or taking advantage of the system. Instead, the stigmas can begin to disappear and reveal who they are, such as neighbors in need of a hand, employees in need of hire, or patients seeking care.

 

This is the first step to spark change, to understand and include these individuals so that we may see past the stigmas. 

 

The second step is to take action.  We need to take accountability and understand the systems in place so that once we hear their stories, we can help these individuals move forward. 

 

Action starts with educating yourself on how you can help. There are different degrees of actions you can take. Even what might seem like the smallest of acts, such as making personal care kits or donating items that are in dire need to Blessing Warriors RVA , have the potential to greatly impact individuals experiencing homelessness. Additionally, volunteering your time with organizations like Hands On RVA or helping to fund programs that have consistently impacted the Richmond community such as Homeward are incredible ways to get involved. 

 

With understanding and action, together we can help Mr. Douglas locate accessible housing, help Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Orlando find jobs, and help thousands of others whose stories deserve to be told.

 

Stories are catalysts for change if we choose to listen. 

 

Further educational resources and outreach opportunities can be found through:

VA Housing Alliance Action, Virginia Supportive Housing, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Homeward’s Get Involved page, CARITAS, Blessing Warriors RVA, and RIchmond Street Sheet which is a resource for individuals and families in crisis to obtain needed services.