Winter is beautiful. A semester of hard work comes to a close and students get to go home to spend some much-needed time with friends and family. The holidays sneak up on us and send people into a flurry of last-minute gift selections and putting the finishing touches on festive decorations. Whether or not you celebrate any of the season’s holidays, it’s hard to deny that it’s a special time of year and the perfect chance to curl under a blanket near a warm fireplace. As the weather continues to bounce between a balmy spring day and a snowy, slushy winter’s night, it’s easy to complain when you slip on the ice in the morning as you rush off to lab only to find that when you go back outside at midday it’s sweltering with all of your layers. But what about those that don’t have a warm, dry dorm room, or those who don’t have a car to get them to and from where they need to be?
Despite being a lively city with plenty of opportunities to serve and be served, Holland, like almost everywhere else, is host to a homeless community whose numbers do not seem to be improving. While there are a host of organizations that seek to help those in need of warm shelter and food, sleeping bags and cardboard mattresses are not an uncommon sight in the streets and parks of the city. Being the Christian community that we are, it should be our mission to provide for this population and extend a helping hand without a second thought. Nevertheless, there still remain homeless people.
Quite frequently, when walking down the street with friends after a donut run or a trip to get fro-yo, there will be shouts of jokes and howls of laughter among you—that is, until someone spots a shivering bundle of sheets on a bench. The banter dies out. Everyone can’t help but send a forlorn glance in the direction of the bench before returning their hands to their pockets and casting their gaze down. It’s not until they are well away before anyone dares to utter anything louder than a sharp mutter. Then, they’re back at it again, shouting and dancing in the streets all the way back to their climate-controlled homes. It’s easy enough to block out what we don’t want to see, but we are called to a higher standard than that. Many argue that they don’t even know how to help.
Rachael Neal of Holland Rescue Mission (HRM) provides three ways that students can help address this issue. First, Neal encourages students to educate themselves by talking to agencies like HRM. This can be as simple as exploring their website and finding articles about homelessness, some potential causes of it and the lasting effects it can have on people. By educating yourself, you can increase your better general understanding of the problem so that it can be addressed rather than pushed aside or labeled as “taboo.” This process of becoming informed teaches people what life is like without a home and how to actually help create change.
Secondly, Neal says not to give people on the street money. Why not? While the act may have good intentions and makes you feel good for helping someone, Neal argues that giving people on the street money or assistance in any other form is “just putting a bandaid on their situation.” She goes on to explain that homeless people “need help to solve the underlying reasons for their homelessness. It’s often an involved process that takes relationships, resources and responsibility.” So what can you actually do to make a difference if not give money or food?
Her last tip is to support organizations that are established in such a way that they address the key causes and issues of homlessness. What does ‘support’ look like coming from a college student? “Support comes in all shapes and sizes!” Neal explains, “Students can give back by donating money, volunteering, donating their material items to our thrift store or even shopping at the store.”
The next time you find yourself reminded of the harsh reality faced by those without a home, remind yourself of their humanity. That person on a park bench is a human being who needs help and you can be part of the solution.
To learn more about how you can get involved in creating change, check out hollandrescue.org.