Don't Look Away: On Homelessness and Humanity

Lisa Tate

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Independent filmmaker Marc Zammit's debut independent feature film deals with some very hard issues: domestic abuse and homelessness.

Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign to make it a reality, Zammit's Homeless Ashes will have its festival premiere in the U.K. at Raindance Film Festival later this month, and will continue to make its way through the film festival circuit, including in the United States.

As bleak as it sounds, I am looking forward to seeing this film make it into theaters (even in limited release) near me, as homelessness is one topic that is not just a problem for our time. In fact, it has been a devastating part of the human condition everywhere for at least at long as we have been recording our history.

Today, gathering from what I read and see, homelessness is an issue that is found worldwide, regardless of the political climate or otherwise “good or bad” state of a community or nation. It covers all races, all eras, and all dark and too often forgotten corners of the world.

It is something near impossible to ignore, but so many of us try. Like everyone else, I consider myself a compassionate individual, but life gets busy. I have my own problems, obligations and family to tend to. I admit I still have that mindset on many occasions, but there was an incident a few years ago that reminds me to slow down and see the humanity behind the homeless when I can.

With this new film working to make the rounds in the independent movie market, I wanted to take this opportunity to repost a short commentary, which originally ran as part of a GeekMom story in early 2016, and later for this site when I first started posting with The Loftus Party:

A couple of weeks ago, my car was in the shop so my father lent me his for a week. One late afternoon, I pulled down the sun visor and was showered with One Dollar bills. I had to call Dad and ask him why he was “makin’ it rain,” so to speak, in the car. He told me he had been keeping those odd dollars he gets as change in the visor to give to street corner beggars and other homeless folk.

“I used to not give to these guys,” he told me. “I figured a dollar here and there may not make a big difference for me, but it could for them.”

Whether that person genuinely needed food, money for clothes, or shelter, or if they were feeding a drug habit, it wasn’t for him to decide. He only knew, he explained, that he was “blessed to be able to have enough left over” to give to others.

This made me think of the time I was homeless and cold…for all of two hours. We used to help out our youth minister at church until we had our own children, and had to stop for a while. The youth minister gave me a call one night during the Christmas season and asked if I could portray a homeless woman outside of a nearby convenience store, as part of an interactive drama to help teach the kids compassion. He never told them I was an “actress” (they all thought they had just been going caroling) so he wanted to know how they would react.

This seemed like an interesting opportunity, so I dirtied myself up, and had my husband drive me to the store to sit against the outside wall until the church bus pulled up. The bus was over an hour late pulling in, so I lingered for a while.

Yes, I knew I had a warm home to go back to, and yes, I had my family waiting across the parking lot in a cozy vehicle playing Fruit Ninja on my husband’s smart phone, but after awhile I got a little sense of what it might be like to not be able to retreat to the comfort of a home. No matter how much I wrapped my hoodie over my face, it was blistery cold that night, especially on the cold concrete. I had to turn my eyes away from the dirty looks of store customers and worried about getting hassled every time I saw a police vehicle driving down the street.

I was beginning to shiver a little from the cold when the bus pulled up, and one large teen boy in a football jersey squatted down and asked me if I would like a coffee. I nodded silently, and then an entire herd of kids approached me, and asked me my “story.” I improvised a scenario (quite well, actually), and they gave me the name and address of some place I could go to get warm. Then they handed me a huge coffee, held my hands, and prayed for me. Then they sang me “Silent Night.”

I’m not going to lie: I cried.

I knew it was an act, but they didn’t, and I was so moved by these young kids taking the time to talk to and comfort a dingy-looking homeless woman, tears just started flowing down my cold, red face. The youth minister told me later, before he let on to the kids it was a “drama,” one girl had wanted to get me a blanket to keep warm, she was so worried.

Between these teenagers a generation after me, and my dad from the one ahead of me, I learned to not always worry if I’m “enabling a junkie” or not. It doesn’t matter if you give pocket change, a cup of coffee or an extra pair of shoes and socks.

Give when you can, if you can. Trust me here, you will feel better for it.

That’s my personal “homeless” story, but there are so many other real stories out there. Some of them, I will admit, got where they are by a series of bad decisions, while others may have not even had a choice in how they ended up where they are.

Did they serve their country? Did they lose their job? Are they the victims of domestic abuse of neglect? Or, are they simply an addict whose priorities on where to get their next “fix” put them on the streets? In terms of whether or not we treat them as fellow humans, does it matter?

In the case of Homeless Ashes, we follow a homeless man named Frankie from his childhood where a single incident provoked by an abusive home life led to his adult life on the streets.

This film shows not only his own coping and hardships, but it demonstrates the spectrum of people and personality types Frankie comes in contact with in his life’s journey. Some may be harrowing, some uplifting, and others flat out heartbreaking.

To learn more about upcoming screenings or release dates for Homeless ashes, you can follow the official Homeless Ashes Facebook and Twitter feeds.

In the meantime, there are still too many children, adults, and families in need of help. It may be a dollar or two in change. It may be a bottle of water, pack of wet wipes, or an old pair of gloves. It may be an old paperback, devotional, or a journal and pen. It may be directions to a shelter or place where they may, just maybe, be able to start on a path to renewed sense of purpose.

It may be nothing more than taking a moment to listen to their story, or to have someone carry on a conversation with them in an intelligent manner. Who knows what will help?

Mostly, let them know they are worthwhile. Let them know they are human. Let them know they, like you, are one of God’s children, and by all means let them know they are not invisible.

Header image ©Aptitude Films

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