I can become invisible in three seconds.
In the time it takes for me to move to a standing position on the sidewalk to sit on the curb beside someone who is experiencing homelessness, I am invisible.
No one sees me (or the person I am now sitting beside); people look at their watches or their pda’s as soon as they catch a glimpse of us; attention is diverted quickly to anything that is in a different direction.
You can try it sometime if you want to risk it, and it will be nerve wracking to say the least, but don’t worry, you’ll be OK as soon as you stand up and continue on your way.
But what if you couldn’t stand up? What if you just didn’t have the wherewithal to sluff off the years or abuse and mental torment? What if you could not muster the stuff to rise from that place of invisibility and anonymity and no-one-ness? What if you had to stay there? What would that be like?
I know some high level leadership training courses that have a segment where the student has to either sleep in a shelter or panhandle until she ‘earns’ ten dollars. At OIM, we have provided opportunities for people to attend ‘One Homeless Night’ where a participant spends the evening on the streets (8 pm to 12 midnight) with only $1.50 and then sleep in a church basement as part of an ‘out of the cold’ shelter experience. Other programs like these have been run with varying degrees of severity, and in some measure, participants can experience a certain degree of ‘homelessness’.
The common denominator in all these examples, is that at the end of a certain period of discomfort, hunger or embarrassment, you just go back home to the suburbs where a caring family, nice warm home and bed await. (Notwithstanding the stop at the first fast food joint for a period of ‘catching up’ on some serious eating).
What if there was no choice? What would it be like to find a place to stay when the shelters are full? Who can you trust? Where can you go? Where will you use the bathroom (after you are identified as homeless)? Where is safe?
Give this five minutes of your consideration, then give us some feedback.