When we think about homelessness, the media, over the years, has put an image in our minds. We carry that image of what homeless people look like with us, allowing it to influence us. But, have you ever stopped, I mean really stopped, to take a look at the face of homelessness?
Maybe it would surprise you, if you were volunteering at Hospitality House, serving a meal in our community kitchen, when a small child (barely big enough to peer over the counter) carries a plate through the line and points at the spaghetti you made. Then, with a big smile on her face, asks for a bowl of fruit to go with it. As you watch that child take a seat next to her visibly strained, exhausted parent, you notice the child is dressed in her pajamas, ready for bed, like most other children her age. Except, she's not sleeping in her own bedroom - or even her own bed.
Then, as you focus once again on the serving line, here come two teenagers pushing, laughing and bouncing up in front of you with plates. They watch as you measure out the next servings, their eyes looking down at the pan, willing you to add just one more scoop of spaghetti to their plates. They look just like the kids your grandson goes to school with.
People continue to stream through the line, some smiling and saying “thank you” as you place the piping hot pasta on their plates, some not making eye contact at all because, in their world, trust is not easy.
As the line begins to thin out, you hear someone say, “hurry up buddy, we don’t have all night.” A man, who looks to be disabled, is pushing his walker slowly through the line, trying to hold his plate and silverware with one hand. He reaches your spot, looks up at you with watery eyes and says, “I will have some, if you don’t mind.” You look around to see who is helping him, then you realize that he is alone. As you fill his plate with spaghetti you wonder, “How did this man, who should be living in a nursing home, end up homeless? What could have happened?”
This is what homelessness looks like.
This is the face of homelessness in the rural mountain counties of Northwest North Carolina.
When you come through the doors of Hospitality House, you will see these faces; the faces of people who have experienced economic hardship, sickness and sometimes mental illness that has gone untreated for years.
You will see teenagers who aged out of the foster care system.
You will see survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence.
You will see elderly men and women, tossed aside by their families for being a burden.
You will see children who are longing for a place to call home again.
And you will see hope. You will see solutions. You will see success. You will see personal victories.
And you will look directly into the face (and eyes and heart) of homelessness.
Come see us sometime,
Tina B. Krause
Hospitality House of Northwest N.C.