Living in a small town I was not overly aware of people who are currently experiencing homelessness. In Lafayette we had a couple shelters and a transitional housing place that I was aware of, but never saw people on the street. So I knew it in the abstract.
When visiting Chicago I did the tunnel vision walk and ignored the people who needed money. When in New York I was with a friend who kept a pocket full of quarters whenever she went to the city to give one to each who asked. The comparison created internal dissonance. My attitude came from two things: an early experience and a stereotype. The stereotype first. People won’t use money for food, but for cigarettes, drink, or drugs. The experience. I once knew some high school rich kids who dressed down and went downtown and panhandled and came home to gloat over their profits. They had no real need. My NY friend answered that by saying it was not her conscience, but theirs.
Now that I live in a Portland I do see a few real live people who are experiencing homeless, and some ask me for money. I started out with the tunnel vision approach, but didn’t like myself that way. The old high school kid prank held me back though. In a conversation I learned two things. Look at their shoes. And there is a place called Sisters of the Road Cafe that serves meals, and one can buy coupons and hand them out instead of cash. Seemed a good move to resolve my dilemma.
So I got some and they came with instructions. The most relevant direction was “Make eye contact.” Quite a contrast to my tunnel vision approach.) The rest was to be sure they could get to the cafe and would use the coupon. Having something to offer helped me get out of tunnel vision.
Browsing the website led me to a book, Voices from the Streets, that resulted from a study, interviews with people experiencing homelessness. And the most relevant chapter so far is the one on feeling invisible and how that lowers self image. Adding that to the eye-contact principle has at least gotten me out of tunnel vision.
Time will tell how involved I actually get.