What is the most important thing that you would like to have but lack?
Perhaps you don’t have a significant other. Or a job that fulfills you. Or maybe you have not traveled very far.
Whatever it may be in your case, odds are that what you lack does not define you, at least in the eyes of others. You are a friend, you are a colleague, you are a runner, you are a painter, you are funny, you are you. You may lack something very important, but it is probably not your primary identity.
Unless you are homeless.
People who live on the streets — people like Silas, Jessica, Adam and my Uncle Mark, before he passed away — are defined by what they lack. During their period(s) on the streets, their identity is cemented. Can you imagine being described by others primarily as a “housed” person? This would feel dehumanizing and reductionistic, and yet it is still something you possess. Being labeled solely as “homeless” is extremely awful in and of itself.
A large percentage of the homeless population hides the fact that they are homeless. They want to retain a modicum of dignity, since homeless people are seen as (in the words of some of the homeless individuals I’ve spoken with) “garbage,” “pieces of ****,” “lazy,” “worthless,” “bums.”
At the Homeless GoPro Project by NearShot, we have worked with 12 homeless autobiographers so far to help them capture their stories. I would estimate that at least half of them mute their perception as a homeless person on most days. These are “not some deranged lunatic or hopeless addict yelling on the street corner.” These are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors.
With roughly 1 out of every 3 Americans only one or two paychecks away from homelessness and 600,000 people homeless on any given night, most people who are homeless are hidden among us.
We have launched a campaign to bring this issue out of the shadows and help capture #100stories of homelessness across America. We are mobilizing people around the U.S. to reconnect with homeless individuals and local service providers in their communities and engage through Coffee Chats and film sessions. We envision a world where homeless people are not defined by what they lack, but are celebrated as people, as invaluable as you or me.
All of us will experience rough times in life. Let’s stop ostracizing our neighbors during their trials and start treating each other with dignity. People want to get involved in this issue but don’t know how: We offer a way to engage with homeless people in your neighborhood that doesn’t involve hand-outs but humanity. By starting with empathy, love, relationships and storytelling, we open the door to a groundswell of support on this issue, to fight for the housing-first and work-first policies that will end chronic homelessness in our society. It starts with storytelling and leads to societal change.