Changing my perception of homelessness


This article was submitted by Glenda Fossum-Smith, Executive Director, Providence Real Estate Strategy and Operations.

There have been times that I have driven by a homeless camp and grimaced. My immediate thoughts weren't ones of compassion but often of shock at the sheer numbers of tents, shanties, and garbage. I came to a hard realization that my apathy is contributing to the problem. I want to turn my apathy into positive action. Homelessness is a problem that we can all help to address.

"I came to a hard realization that my apathy is contributing to the problem. I want to turn my apathy into positive action."

Recently I had the opportunity to join a team from the Better Outcomes thru Bridges (BOB) Program (Providence program through Behavioral Health) on one of their "sprinkles." The is an outreach effort providing needed supplies to homeless camps throughout Portland. When I shared with family and friends my plans, I was cautioned to be careful as a common perception is that homeless people are dangerous. This is not what I experienced.

The BOB team is very experienced; some are peer specialists who can relate to what many homeless people are encountering from their own life experiences. The group approached each homeless person with compassion and respect and, in turn, were treated the same. I was impressed by this team and their steadfast commitment to serving our communities' most poor and vulnerable. The positive energy and calm approach to each person we encountered gave me hope.

We marched on from one tent to another for two hours, carts filled with supplies consisting of headlamps, food, clothing, hygiene products, tents, and sleeping bags. With each person we encountered, we received words of gratitude. Not one person we met asked for more than what they needed and often encouraged their neighbors to get supplies.

Some engaged us in conversations or to share a joke or two. There were times that individuals refused our offerings, but never once were did we experience hostility or aggression. I am not saying that there were not some unsafe moments. Yes, there was a significant amount of garbage, and we had to be watchful of where we walked and mindful of our surroundings. However, treating individuals with respect and dignity goes a long way.

I am proud to work for an organization committed to being a community partner in addressing homelessness in our communities. Programs like BOB not only is matching individuals with services but helping to change the perception of homelessness. Participating in this "sprinkle" heightened my awareness and provided the experience that my soul needed to change my apathy to empathy. My journey doesn't end here. I will continue to find ways that I can be part of the solution. I hope that others will join me.

Learn more about Providence's Housing is Health program

About the Author

The Providence Community Engagement team is focused on shining a spotlight on big societal topics. We are committed to bring you information and resources about issues and polices that impact all Americans.

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