Opinion: Walking with the homeless can enlighten you

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Ever been on a “street walk” before? These short excursions involve walking through city streets and meeting different homeless communities. My experience doing street walks with the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Boulder has been overwhelmingly positive. The stories you hear make the walks engaging, and the perspectives are unique. And if you think hanging with the homeless is only for the religious, you’re wrong! Charity is for everyone.

The importance of aiding the homeless grows as the homeless population widens. As of late 2016, homelessness in Colorado continues to rise. Veterans, especially, feel these effects. Although all homelessness is defined by extreme poverty and a lack of stable housing, many types exist. That makes the task of addressing the problem particularly unique.

Homelessness can be characterized as short-term, long-term or chronic. Some experience temporary homelessness, and many undergo a sporadic homelessness, in which they move between housing and homelessness. Even those who “couch surf” can be considered homeless.

It’s a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted approach, and that’s where “street walks” come in.

Many of you may be skeptical of going on a street walk, as I was initially. Many doubt that any good can come out of these short experiences. Others question the purpose of the walks. Some fear the thought of talking to homeless people because they are “different,” but these reasons should not stop you. Spend some time with the homeless, and you will not regret it. On a street walk, you travel in groups of three or four and stop whenever you see a homeless individual or community. Just like approaching anyone else, all you need to do is go up and start a conversation. Once you get over the initial awkwardness, you are on your way!

During one of my street walk experiences in Boulder, my group met a woman selling jewelry near Pearl Street. She was a world traveler and told us about some of her times in Germany. Although her circumstances were less than ideal, she was still doing what she loved. That is a message all of us can take to heart.

Another instance comes to mind: On a rainy evening, our group met a homeless community sheltered under the outdoor amphitheater off Walnut Street. A Native American man named Nikon greeted us as we walked up some stairs.

Nikon told us about his experience around the gangs of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was just happy to have gotten out alive. Although he expressed anger about the United States government’s treatment of American Indians, he magnanimously stated that he was a patriot who loved his country. Nikon’s family, friends and land mattered most to him. Homelessness did not define him.

Street walks are not about one-time encounters, though. Each experience builds on the last one and the conversational momentum adds up over time. After going on several street walks, you begin to see some of the same people and get to know a real community.

In a country that often values money above friendship, it is refreshing to see an interdependent community that simply values one another. The homeless can give us just as much, if not more, than we can give them.

The wisdom of the streets can edify, enlighten and redefine what you think humans are made of. The homeless have much to teach us, especially regarding relationships. When someone is stripped of everything, relationships take precedent. As they always should.

If you still want to give back to the Boulder community but are looking for something else, try the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. You will team up with a cook staff and serve some delicious homemade meals. Whatever you try, make sure to invite a friend!

Ultimately, street walks are personal encounters. They build diverse relationships. They will pop your comfort bubble. If this sounds good to you, get connected with a local charitable organization or church. You won’t regret it, and you certainly won’t forget it.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Will Suhrie at william.suhrie@colorado.edu.

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