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Before arriving in Seattle, navigating the bus system was certainly one of my greatest anxieties. It was going to be a relatively new method of transportation for me in a new city. I was concerned about delayed rides, misinformed stops, mean passengers etc. The anxiety was probably silly (although all these things have happened 🙂 ). More importantly, however, although I anxiously anticipated that these scenarios would occur, presently, when I am at the bus stop at times I question how I could have been so unaware. My attention has shifted and become occupied elsewhere – there are thousands of individuals in Seattle who lack permanent housing.
At Duke, one of my main extracurricular commitments is to Habitat for Humanity. I am a strong supporter of the organization’s mission to helping those in need of housing. So, although homelessness is not a new subject for me and despite the fact that I knew that I was going to be living and working in an urban area in Seattle, I did not think about how I would see the visible presence of homelessness almost daily.
My DukeEngage group has had some important discussions on issues we have observed within the Seattle community, including poverty and homelessness. This past week, we visited an organization known as Real Change (http://www.realchangenews.org). Real Change produces a weekly newspaper that is sold by those who are poor and often homeless. While the newspaper itself is written by a professional and editorial staff and discusses mainstream subjects, those who are homeless in the community contribute to the topics in the paper and the newspaper also covers homelessness. By selling newspapers, vendors have an alternative to panhandling or other looked down upon methods for finding some money.
Our speaker at Real Change shared many thoughts that really resonated with me, especially how we have reached a point in our society where people who lack permanent housing become almost “dehumanized,” or rather to be better stated “invisible.” Despite my commitment to affordable and safe permanent housing, I know there are several times I have walked down the street or stood at the bus stop and have not paid attention to anyone around me. People are not actually invisible, but rather homelessness has become such a stable presence that many of us just don’t even see it anymore.
I believe that the majority of us do not want homelessness to be an occurrence. Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves of that desire. I wonder what role(s) or action(s) I need to take so that I can help the people I meet at a bus stop. I wonder what role(s) or action(s) I as part of a larger community need to take so that we can address this national need.
Before my arrival in Seattle, I could foresee potential inconsequential inconveniences like untimely buses and missed stops, yet despite the fact that homelessness was for certain going to be in my vicinity, I missed early consideration of this social dilemma’s presence and impact. We need to remove our blinders, see what is in front of us, and ask how we got here. Hopefully, then, we can do something about it.
Thanks for your time,