Jimmy Kimmel's "Celebrities reading mean tweets" is one of his funniest and most parodied segments. But when a Canadian charity asked local homeless folks to read what people had to say about homelessness on Twitter, the result wasn't funny at all.
Homeless people are still people.
One December evening, my husband Patrick and I were stopped outside our building by a homeless man asking for a cigarette. Pat, being the friendly and talkative guy that he is, happily offered him a cigarette and struck up a conversation with him while I tried to hurry us inside away from the cold. It was in those few moments — while Pat and the man laughed about how crappy the winter had been and the price of cigarettes — that a wave of embarrassment washed over me. Here I was feeling put out over a few minutes chatting with this man because I was cold. Meanwhile, he'd be stuck outside long after our conversation ended. And in talking to him, the man went from being a "homeless guy" to being a guy in our neighborhood who was fed up with city life just like we were, but he was still able to laugh it off with a smile.
And while I consider myself to be a pretty compassionate person with tons of empathy to go around, the lesson here is that it's too easy for many of us to forget that the homeless folks who line our city sidewalks are real people with hopes, dreams, families, and challenges just like everyone else. These people are not inconveniences to our selfish daily lives. They're people.
It's not easy being homeless.
There are tons of reasons people end up on the streets: debt, mental illness, family tragedy, and addiction. There's also a growing population of homeless LBGTQ youth, many of whom were put out by their own families. That's why comments like the ones presented in the video above feel so incredibly heartless.
But if being without a home and dealing with the stigma of being homeless wasn't hard enough, some states are enacting tough laws that leave homeless folks without places to sleep and that even penalize citizens for food sharing.
And while it was heartbreaking watching the folks in the "Homeless reading mean tweets" video confront the nasty misconceptions that too many have about the homeless, here's hoping it helps reframe the way we think about the homeless and the aid they need and deserve.
Interested in helping the homeless in your community? Check out "35 ways to help the homeless" from JustGive.org