A homeless man (image from Pixel Bay)

The invisible

I confess: I don’t see them either.

I know they’re there. They hold up cardboard signs as they stand at the exits of shopping malls. They sit in back corner of the public library when they are not using the bathroom. They push shopping carts filled with stuffed black plastic bags.

I know they’re there, but I don’t see them. Neither do most of us.

We don’t see them because we don’t trust them. How do we know they’re not a robber? Or a mass murderer? Or a terrorist? Or a scam artist? How do we know they’re really homeless? Sometimes, their clothes look too clean. Or that stroller looks too new.

What if they’re homeless because they deserve it? Perhaps they’re drug addicts. Or mentally ill. Or disobedient youth getting some tough love. Or they’re just too lazy to work. Doesn’t the Bible say, “He who will not work shall not eat?”

And if they truly need help, why are they on the street when there are homeless shelters? Why can’t they get a job when places are hiring? Why isn’t the government taking care of them when we pay so much for taxes? What about those charities that beg us for donations? Why aren’t they taking care of them?

So, we pretend they’re invisible. We walk or drive by them like they don’t exist. We pretend they are not people like us — but they are. They may have had homes, jobs, and money in the bank. But circumstances can change, sometimes in minutes.

They may have had a programming job that got outsourced to another country. When they applied elsewhere, they got passed over by candidates who are half their age and asked for half their salary. Or they may have depleted their life savings to pay for a surgery their insurance didn’t fully cover. After the surgery, they were prescribed an opioid painkiller that they became addicted to. Or they may be working two minimum-wage jobs at fast-food restaurants, but it is still not enough to cover rent and transportation.

Perhaps this is the real reason why the homeless are invisible to us. They remind us how close we are to losing everything — including our dignity and humanity. We could be sleeping in our car or on the sidewalk. We may offer a nervous “There but for the grace of God go I” while being fully aware that even God’s grace might not shield us from every misfortune.

The homeless need food, shelter, clothing, and an opportunity to move up. More importantly, they need dignity. They need us to see them and not treat them as invisible. We should help the homeless just as we would want someone to be there for us if we were in need. Someday, we may be.