“Mommy, why are there homeless people?” It was a question simply asked, full of innocence. It was a question I longed to answer honestly, thoughtfully, and in a way her four and a half-year old mind would understand. My tongue felt a bit thick as I began to speak. “Well, honey, there are many different reasons….”
As I spoke memories came flooding back of time in Los Angeles just after college ended. Living in Mid-Wilshire, blocks away from Hancock Park, but a world away in every other comparison. It was there I learned about listening to stories in ways I never had, hearing the stories of homeless people. I still remember Gerardo, who came from Guatemala to find a better life, who wanted to learn English, who somehow managed to keep himself immaculately clean, despite the fact that he had no shelter to call home. He struggled to find work because his silver-gray hair was passed over in favor of younger men. I remember stories of people with college degrees who fell on hard times and ended up homeless because they didn’t have family and friend support during those times. And I remember a man whose name escapes me, who didn’t talk about his life before his years on the streets, but who took one afternoon and played the piano for us. He played beautifully, and it evoked emotions for all of us; after being a regular at the meals we were serving, we never saw him again after that day tickling the ivories. How to explain to my daughter the reasons these people ended up homeless? I take a deep breath and try again.
This is not the first conversation about homelessness we’ve shared, and it won’t be the last. My daughter is the one who reminds me to pull granola bars from the trunk to put them into our glove box in case we see someone asking for food as we get off the freeway. My daughter suggests that maybe we could buy people sleeping bags to keep them warm at night. My daughter is the one who suggested that, since we’re moving, we could let the homeless have our house. My daughter is not scared of homeless people. My daughter does not question their sincerity or if they deserve help. My daughter teaches me about loving as Jesus does. Thank you, my girl.