‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
Sometime in 2006, my father disappeared. I am not sure for how long he was missing as my grandfather tended to shield me from many of my father’s challenges with schizophrenia. Eventually, my grandfather told me that he was not exactly sure where of my dad’s location. This was terrifying to a family member of a person managing schizophrenia given the high likelihood of suicide.
It turned out that he was living out of his car, near a hotel in Northern Michigan for several weeks, if not several months. He was surviving off the continental breakfasts that the hotel offered until he began to bother the other patrons with his appearance and demeanor and they contacted law enforcement.
My dad was off his medications and deeply immersed in a psychotic episode. He was unable to function in a healthy manner and found this part of the world to be safe for reasons that are beyond my understanding.
Why am I telling you this story?
It breaks my heart to think of the comments directed toward my father during this time. I think of what hotel patrons must have thought of this filthy man sharing their breakfast space. Naturally, I am grateful to the hotel employees for feeding him, intervening, and allowing his family to locate him.
Our common humanity.
I now see my father in the face of every homeless man asking for money or shuffling the streets of my community. I know that person is somebody to somebody. We belong to each other. The person you sneer at holding the homeless sign is somebody’s son, daughter, father, or mother. I promise that you do not know what brought them to this place in their life.
I am not asking you to give them money (although if you have the means to do so, I ask you to consider it). I am asking you to treat the person standing there like a human being. I want you to smile at them. I want you to say hello as you walk past. I understand that some people are not safe to interact with and I am not asking you to put yourself in harm’s way. However, please, stop ignoring these people or acting as if they are worthless animals that “just need to get a job.”
My dad supported a family of four for over twenty years. Then the bottom dropped out and it dropped out hard. My dad was no longer able to support himself or a family. He cannot work or else he would work. If you are saying to yourself “your situation is the exception,” I ask you to consider that it is not the exception. All people want to feel valuable. We should not shame people for having to use social resources when they are no longer able to, or temporarily unable to care for themselves.
I am asking for your compassion and understanding.
My father is now safely living in a home with other adult men in similar situations. He is loved and cared for on a daily basis. He is lucky. Not all people struggling with mental illnesses (and this includes substance abuse) have a loving support systems to advocate for their well-being. Maybe, just try to be kinder to those people holding signs or sitting on the sidewalk. It will not hurt you to do so. Not one bit.