In the work, I do at Heading Home and as an ABQ YAV, I have had several experiences that have led me to believe compassion and kindness are extremely important. At the end of every day, I take intentional time to write down three things that have brought me joy during the day and I have found more often than not they relate to kindness and compassion. Then, when I lay down to go to sleep every night I always spend time thinking those who don’t have their own bed. I am grateful I have my own bed and I also appreciate the ability to examine larger systemic issues that cause people to experience homelessness and in appropriate cases to help meet their immediate needs.
When I am working at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center (AOC), I find myself enjoying conversations when I have the opportunity to engage with the guys. At this point I have spent so much time there I am recognized by the clients and I know many of them by name. It is important for me to have the time to interact directly with the clients providing me with a clear motivator for doing the work I do. At my job, the hardest thing for me to hear from the clients is that they miss their bed and the hardest thing for me to see is when my coworkers operate without kindness and compassion. I think the stories of people experiencing homelessness are valuable and listening to them and developing relationships with the guys has shown me the value of compassionate listening.
I have had a really great role model and friend at the AOC who demonstrated never-ending genuine kindness and compassion not only to all of the clients at the AOC but to me and to my volunteers. The way he conducted himself and the wisdom he has shared with me has caused me to reflect on what I could do to open my heart a little more and to be a more compassionate person. This individual is no longer working at the AOC but I am lucky to have him as my friend because he always inspires me and I can only strive to be half as compassionate and genuine as he is. One thing I have learned from him and that I share with my volunteer is the volunteer who only sits and listens to the clients is no less valuable or important than my volunteers that actively walk around the shelter completing a variety of tasks. One volunteer is busy learning and showing compassion while the other is kindly helping meet more immediate needs.
The ABQ YAVS recently spent some time in Farmington, New Mexico. We were graciously welcomed into the Farmington community and into homes by several members of First Presbyterian Church. I had a lot of fun meeting new interesting people while exploring Farmington and the Aztec Ruins National Monument. This trip gave me a chance to experience a different part of New Mexico and get a glimpse of how areas other than Albuquerque deal with immediate and long term needs and causes of people experiencing homelessness.
One night in Farmington we served a meal at Frontline Mission, a local mission location for serving meals and giving food to people experiencing homelessness. I can honestly say I wasn’t that much help that night. Instead of serving food and drinks I went out and sat at a table full of strangers. When I asked to sit down, a few of the people looked at like me like I was making an absurd request. One guy moved down on the picnic table bench so there would be room for me. The people around the table started joking around about why a white girl would want to sit with some self-declared “native homeless people”. I quickly responded, “Why not?” From there I was welcomed at their table.
Eventually, after a rather long discussion with the whole table about the upcoming Super Bowl, and why I was at Frontline Mission that night, the guy sitting next to me turned to me and started sharing his experience of being homeless. At that moment I knew there was no quick fix to his problems and all I could do was show compassion, sit, and listen. He was 22, with no family, and had been experiencing homelessness for the past 5 years. He told me about some of the local shelters and how where we were that night was his favorite place to get food. He kept saying “I miss my bed.”
As I was sitting at the table with these strangers in a place I knew very little about I listened to their struggles and wondered about the root causes for their difficulties since I knew their immediate need for food was being met. As I got up from the table that night I got quite a few hugs and said goodbye. Walking away from the table, I could have accepted my privilege, chosen to ignore the stories I heard and walked away from that night as if nothing happened.
The stories of the people experiencing homelessness are stories I can’t come close to understanding but that doesn’t stop me from trying to show empathy and compassion. People experiencing homelessness are still people and I am of the opinion that no matter what they deserve to be treated with the same amount or more compassion, respect, and kindness as anyone else and that their stories matter. I am no expert of the subject of changing the systemic problems related to homelessness but when considering ways to help and make systemic changes I think people experiencing homelessness need to be invited to the conversation.
I can’t house every resident of the AOC or every person who’s table I happen to sit at wherever I go but, I can make a commitment to not forget them. I can be patient, show a little compassion and try to help deal with some immediate needs especially at work when an AOC guy asks me for an extra blanket or any help. I can remember to be thankful I have a bed as I go to sleep every night and I can remember specific people and stories when thinking about choosing future elected officials and questioning the current system. When formulating a response to anything related to people experiencing homelessness I can choose to exercise kindness and compassion.