In the 2010 documentary Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home, an older woman named Lee Anne is seen putting on lipstick. She wears large glasses, a headscarf, and layers of clothes. Next to her is a grocery cart, filled to the brim. Her life in a basket.
Lee Anne was once a Southern mom. She still has a sense of elegance, although it’s mostly covered by years of wrinkles and the results of getting through life in America’s most notorious homeless neighborhood.
The movie follows several homeless people and the end leaves you with a feeling of sympathy and wonder. A wonder for people like Lee Anne, who despite the cards she was dealt, still has a sense of romance and compassion for others.
Lee Anne puts on makeup for one of her friends, a black man named KK. He’s tall, and younger, stronger. She cares for others even though she’s invisible to almost everyone.
The issue of homelessness is no doubt challenging to all of us. Most of us want to wish them away. Our downtown communities would be so much more pleasant without the homeless to step over. They are not the kind of ornaments we want hanging from the front doors of local businesses.
In almost every other human cause, where we see people in need, we become advocates for our fellow brethren. Battered women can stay in homes that are legislatively funded. Orphaned children are given temporary parents.
Yet, with the traditional homeless population, we turn a blind eye. We tell ourselves, and our friends, that these people just need to get a job. In a quick moment, we fill ourselves with distance. The sympathy that enters us at the site of a hungry child is nowhere to be found.
The typical homeless person is male and middle aged, and the homeless person that you once walked by probably has a background that is surprising to you. A pair of torn pants and a shirt filled with holes can often be a disguise for a man with an upbringing much like yours and mine.
The last time I spoke with a homeless person I noticed some interesting details. His name was John and he had a lot less teeth than I did. Yet still he laughed out loud at funny anecdotes. He hugged me and those around him. He shook my hand like I do when I meet others.
Really, he was just like me in many ways and so are the homeless in your community. They love and hurt like you do, but for some reason, you hope that they would just do it somewhere far away where you won’t notice.
We can’t wish the homeless away from our communities. We can work with our local agencies and non-profits to find solutions to uplift our homeless population. Yes, it’s an uphill battle. Yes, it takes a lot of work. They key is to stop thinking that your goal is to solve the problem and shift your focus to helping a person.
None of us can help everyone, but all of us can help someone. Let’s start thinking, and doing, instead of wishing that ugly truths will disappear if we close our eyes long enough.