by Linda Fazio
On the frigid cold weekend of March 10-12, I volunteered to help with AHCC’s Pop-Up Warming Station for the homeless, not knowing what to expect. My heart was broken as I thought about people not having the option to go home each day to a warm bed and a “normal, predictable” life. I quickly realized that when a person is homeless, their primary focus is on basic needs – food and shelter. Any longer term needs – dental visits, medical check-ups, eye exams – are out of reach and often neglected. The homeless live from day to day, making their way through a complicated support system, moving from place to place, fighting the elements – rain, extreme heat, snow and freezing temperatures – harsh conditions no one should have to face. Simple needs become luxuries that are never assured to be available.
It’s my nature to start a conversation with just about everyone I meet, and as I did so that weekend, it confirmed that everyone has as story. For some, being homeless is a chronic condition, brought on by anxiety or depression issues, substance abuse or mental disorders. Others just had really bad luck, like the family of five who moved from Milwaukee to live with a relative, only to learn when they arrived that the relative had died, causing them to not be allowed to live at her house. For others, being homeless was a new and terrifying experience, causing them to feel rejected and to withdraw into themselves.
I met many really “good” people. People like you and me, not like the stereotype of the homeless we tend to hear about – that they are lazy, violent, drug and alcohol abusers. They were all so very appreciative of what we at AHCC were doing that weekend, and let us know it in a most moving way. I met kids who were bright, engaging and very well behaved, with parents who were doing everything they could to make life as good as possible, even when their heartbreak over not being able to provide more for their families was clear.
I am glad to have had this opportunity. Yes, it was heart-breaking and emotional to hear their stories, but I made some new friends. I fell in love with Emory, Priscilla and their 3-year old daughter Alison. They came here from New York thinking that the cost of living would be less in Hartford, but Emory had not found work by that weekend, and it was tearing him apart. I have learned that he has since found a good job, and I rejoiced with them.
How humbling it was to have this experience which made me appreciate more fully the life that I have. Since that weekend, I have found Proverbs 21:13 to be especially meaningful: Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. Thank you, God, for allowing me the privilege to spend time with these kind, humble, fun, respectful, and religious, but sometimes confused and frightened, people.