Thinking Outside the Cardboard Box

I’ve lived in a lot of places- suburban red brick households with large backyards and rose bush gardens; cookie cutter apartment complexes where my room was so small that my bookshelf had to be placed in the closet; vintage bungalows with antique appliances and creaky wooden floors; miniature townhouses, home to a few too many ant colonies and cockroaches; and grand, spacious residences with suspiciously small yards and not nearly enough room to run around outside. I’ve lived in a lot of places, some nice, some not as nice- but I’ve always had a roof over my head, and I’ve always returned to my house or apartment or shack knowing who I’d be returning to, knowing that the people in my family are what make that building a home. My homesickness has always been a concrete thing- an “I miss my family, I miss my golden retriever, I miss the purple cabinets and the shower head that always sprays water a little too hot or a little too cold, no matter how much time you spend adjusting it,”- and I’ve never had to worry about the weather outside or whether my thrift store backpack would be enough of a pillow to disguise the rocky ground I’d sleeping on.

But not everyone has been given the same comforts as I have.

As I write this, I’m eating a small mountain of chocolate chip cookies; my walls are painted pepto-bismol pink and light green; the computer that I’m using to type is old, yet solid and reliable. But what if my mother had lost her job a year ago? What if a member of my family had become desperately ill right after my parents’ divorce, or what if an unfortunate event had left us penniless and sleeping on the streets? We’ve been poor, we’ve struggled to pay the bills before, but I’ve always had the privilege of a warm bed to sleep in, and a family to rely on, and the fact that some people do not have this privilege is heartbreaking to me.

The World Homeless Day Logo

Halloween is approaching, and hundreds of people will go as ‘the homeless’- they’ll carry a cardboard sign and dirty their clothes and spend a substantial amount of time attempting to make their hair look ratty. For people who are actually homeless- and let me clarify, they are people who are homeless, not ‘homeless people’, not ‘the homeless’, they are human beings who have been placed in an extremely unfortunate situation, a situation that does not and should not define them- it will be impossible to take off this ‘homeless’ costume at the end of the night, to go home and shower in water that might be a little too hot or a little too cold no matter how much time you spend adjusting it. They live this life day after day, and they are judged for it, and they are ridiculed for it, and those that pass them on the streets with a pitying glance from inside a car will return to a house- or maybe a condo, or maybe a mansion, or maybe a townhouse, but a place to live nonetheless- and a family and a meal to eat, before sleeping in a safe, warm bed.

Wednesday of this week was World Homeless Day, and to be quite honest, I had no clue of this when I chose my topic. On this one day, privileged people across the planet joined together to raise awareness and provide information and help for those that are homeless. But I hope that even after World Homeless Day, those that have a safe place to sleep and a roof over their head will spare more than a judgmental look towards the people living on the streets. It’s easy to dismiss people as just ‘homeless,’ or to decide that they’re on the streets because they’re lazy or something, but many of them have been dealt an unfortunate hand, and in an alternate universe- maybe even in this universe, a few months or years from now- you could be in the same situation for reasons out of your control. Think about your perspective, realize all the things you take for granted, change your point of view, and do what you can to help people who don’t have the comforts that you do. Even if you can’t give them all a home, or a shower head that is always a little too hot or a little cold no matter how much time you spend adjusting it, a little goes a long way when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from.

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