Stigmas surrounding homelessness should be disregarded


Photo by Angela Valle

Photo illustration.

Story by Cailey Roberson, profile editor

The sun beat down with no abandon on the cracked, black asphalt of the Walmart parking lot. Wavy lines of heat rested above the pavement. Carefully wedged in between my index and middle finger was my car key, sort of like my own Wolverine claw.

My mom has always held hers that way to protect herself, so, naturally, I do too‒just in case.

As a recipient of the World’s Worst Parking Job award, I tend to park away from other vehicles, which usually means parking in secluded areas and in the backs of parking lots. (This also means that the walks back to my car are quite a workout).

An unfamiliar voice brought me to a stop after I had opened my car door. I looked to see a thin woman carrying a bag and hastily walking toward me in an attempt to catch my attention. This, as it would anyone else, startled me and caused me to backpedal a bit. I tried to slip into my car, but the woman persisted and said something that threw me off and made me stay.

“Do I look bad?” she said.

“I was just wondering because every time I walk up to people they leave or ignore me.”    

Her face was streaked with sweat and she looked tired.

I told her that she looked fine but ought to get out of the sun, to which she agreed. After explaining to me her plight, she asked if I would go back into Walmart with her and help her buy something that she needed.

All my life, I had been told to not hand out cash or talk to strangers, so, stranger-danger alarms blaring, I asked if she wanted some water instead. (I kept a gallon-sized baggie in my trunk filled with a water bottle, some granola bars, toiletries and a slip of paper regarding shelter information‒ just in case). The woman, clearly shaken, nodded her head. “Really?” she said. It seemed like she didn’t believe me.

I walked her around to the back of my car. I kept my key in between my fingers still, wary of this unknown woman. One part of me told me to get out of there as fast as I could, and the other craved to destroy the all-homeless-people-are-lazy-liars stigma that had been so deeply ingrained into my head for so many years.

When I handed her the baggie, the lady began to sob. She rummaged through the contents of the care package hungrily and repeated, “I appreciate you so much,” over and over again.

I had never seen someone so moved. She told me that I was a good person and that she was extremely grateful. I would have went in for a hug had she not been so incredibly sweaty.

That lady taught me more than any social experiment video would have. She taught me more than what a sermon at church would. That thin, homeless stranger roaming around the Walmart parking lot taught me love and kindness.

Human beings need kindness. Humans need to be loved and cared for. They ought not to be treated less because of who they are, what they’re wearing, where they’re from or what their salary is. Treat disadvantaged people with the same respect you would have for anyone else. There is never a way to know what others have been through, or what they’re going through.

Pay no heed to stigmas. People are people. Always be kind to everyone.