Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who are We to Judge?

Patrick Penner
Patrick is a second year Franciscan Outreach Volunteer serving at the Franciscan House shelter.

Patrick serving at Franciscan House
Especially when you live in a bigger city you see homeless people all the time.  Some asking for money or selling newspapers.  Some dangerously walking between driving cars or standing at street corners.  Thousands pass them every day.  If you pay attention, you notice that most do so without even noticing.  Busy all day, rushing around, their thoughts focused on the next thing on their to-do list.  Or they are ignoring the person that expresses their need to them, pretending not to see them.

I used to belong to this group of people.  Whenever I would pass a homeless person I tried to look very busy.  Either looking at my phone or quickly walking past with big steps.  When I was spoken to, I would not even look at whoever tried to get my attention, not seeing homeless people equally.  And I did not feel bad about it.  Everyone did it.

During the past year that I have served at the Franciscan House shelter, I have gotten to know the homeless - whom we call guests - more closely.  I've learned about what has happened to them in the past and what is going on in their lives now.  What our guests appreciate the most is someone who listens to what they say.  You can see how their faces light up when you call them by name, taking them out of the anonymity.  I  learned not to judge them based on their homelessness.  Who am I to judge anyone anyways?  We often forget that those who are homeless aren't different from most of us.  They are college graduates, unemployed, people with jobs, proud fathers and mothers.  The only thing that makes them different is that they happen to not have housing.

Patrick helping Emily with intake at the Marquard Center
My experience from interacting with our guests has taught me this:  If you don't want to give someone money, that is totally fine!  But if you are being asked for it, don't just walk away.  Take notice of that person and respond!  There is nothing wrong with a, "no, I'm sorry!" By responding you are showing that you value this person as a human being that has the right to be treated equally.

If you want to go one step further, take a few minutes to get caught in a conversation.  Or talk to someone who looks lonely, even if you have to step out of your comfort zone to do so.  Here, my friend and former volunteer Carissa Stewart is a good example.  She just walks up to people and introduces herself, seeking out those who others don't talk to.  There are so many interesting stories that are just waiting to be heard.  Without any effort, you can brighten someones day and learn to be more understanding of those in need.

Let's remind ourselves to be more aware of those who don't get attention.  To accept others where ever they are in life, no matter rich or poor.  To treat everyone the same way we would like to be treated; we are all equal residents of the same planet.

Because, who are we to judge?

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