The hardest part of advocating for people who have severe, immediate, life threatening needs is saying, “I know what you need, but I can’t offer that today.”
As advocates we see people who have lost connections to their family, have a “street family” but no real friendships with housed individuals, and our street top sleeping neighbors never seem to be working the top of this pyramid where they can be spontaneous, creative, or sometimes even happy.
Why can’t they be spontaneous? This is simple, they cannot go anywhere without bringing all of their belongings unless they have secure storage.
Why can’t they be creative? Studies have shown that when insecurely housed, people can lose 10 IQ points or more. Survival Mode is not a creative mode.
Why can’t they emote feelings of worth? Our neighbors are worth dignity and care and getting to know – but when your life depends on the kindness of strangers and the products of a stringent welfare system there doesn’t seem to be much to feel good about.
I know this, they know this and I want YOU to know this also. When you see someone who has extreme needs that you can’t meet – remember the one need that you can.
Look them in the eyes and say “hello”. Validate their existence and extend to them the reminder that they do, in fact, matter.