Make homelessness personal

Treat homeless people like human beings by acknowledging their presence and giving to them when you can.

Because I grew up in Philadelphia, I was exposed to homelessness at a young age. Passing by homeless people on the street, saying “hello” and handing over my change have become habitual for me.

But that’s not the case for everyone. And there’s still an unfair stigma associated with those who are homeless.

I’ve heard people blame those who are homeless for their own misfortune, pointing to drug addiction or laziness. But it’s not our place to judge others.

It’s important that, instead, we set aside our assumptions and treat those who are homeless as human beings — interacting with them and lending a helping hand whenever we can.

AaronRey Ebreo, a sophomore biology major, started a project last school year called “Swipes for Philadelphia” that does exactly that. At the end of each week, Ebreo and other Temple students buy food with their extra meal swipes and organize a time to distribute the food to homeless people around the city.

“They’ll give the biggest smile,” Ebreo said. “Sometimes they’ll actually come hug me or shake my hand or something. They’re just so thankful for the food. It’s absolutely amazing.”

By interacting directly with those who are homeless, Ebreo and others like him aren’t only sharing their food or spare change, they’re also sharing compassion.

Homeless people aren’t invisible, and it’s wrong to ignore them like so many do. If you can’t offer them money, then simply smile and wish them a good day.

Those who choose to ignore people panhandling on the street because they’d rather donate to a nonprofit or shelter are being rude to those seeking kindness.

“Sometimes when you’re giving to a food bank, you won’t have that initial contact and actually connect with them and hear their stories,” Ebreo said.

And while making a donation is thoughtful, that money and food only ends up making it to the people who are living in shelters. It’s not benefiting the people with no roof over their heads.

According to the city’s Office of Homeless Services, there are an estimated 5,693 people who are currently homeless in Philadelphia, and not all of them choose to access a shelter.

NBC 10 reported in 2014 that nearly half of the homeless people seeking emergency shelter in Philadelphia were turned away due to an increased demand. And a 2016 report on Philadelphia by TakePart, a digital lifestyle magazine, reads “on any given night…about 650 people are sleeping on the streets—this doesn’t include those who sleep in shelters, cars, abandoned buildings, transportation centers, or other public spaces.”

“The sad thing is shelters are overflowing, so there’s not enough room for everybody,” said Biki Benipal, a junior chemistry major who volunteers for Swipes for Philadelphia.

Adam Perez, a sophomore biology major who is also involed with Ebreo’s campaign, feels it’s important to give to the homeless because it not only impacts their lives, but his as well.

“I felt like I was making a difference, and it made it easier to see what I could do to help people,” Perez said.

Even though a few dollars won’t give a homeless person the stability they need, it can offer them hope.

OHS and various shelters around the city are doing their best to lessen the rate of homelessness, and I respect those who join in their efforts by donating money, clothing and food. But it’s imperative that we put a face to the issue of homelessness and stop ignoring those who crave our consideration.

It doesn’t take much to make a positive impact on those who are homeless. Giving them your spare change or even exchanging a simple “hello” can make a bigger impact than you think.

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