Abby Hevert, ’15
I have worked with homeless people since the beginning of September. In that time, I have worked tirelessly to find these people homes, especially amidst the gloomy and frigid weather that Rhode Island has given its residents. My clients struggle with many different things. Universally, they have experienced trauma, often starting in childhood and continuing on to their days in shelter or on the street. Until I started working with these people, I did not understand that homelessness in and of itself is traumatic. It is completely destabilizing and truly shakes people to their cores. It disrupts peace and removes certainty. Homelessness tests the strength of those who are subject to it by adding extra stressors: divorces, child custody issues, health problems, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and even monetary abuse. Therefore, the homeless try to find ways to cope. Yes, it is true that some may turn to different substances to try to ease their pain. And while many people may find this hard to believe, I am a witness to true beauty every day I go to work. This is because I get to see how unwavering, steadfast, and wonderful Homeless Love can truly be.
And yes, in some ways I am talking about romantic love. I have worked with couples who do not stop holding each other’s hands throughout the entire day. They steal kisses from one another when they think no one is watching. These couples still look at one another with adoring glances when they are standing in line for food stamps and have not showered in days. And while they do argue and disagree, they often are forced to put these differences aside because of the unique stressors they face. Suddenly, when they become homeless, the disagreements that most couples have about things like perceived insensitivity or jealousy become insignificant. These issues become petty because more important things take center stage. Basic needs become the priority as they merely try to survive in a world that constantly rejects them. When I asked one couple what keeps their love for one another so strong, they simply answered: “Being homeless is too hard to do without someone else. You just need a partner to help you get through this time in your life.”
Sometimes these partners come in less traditional forms. Often, older women will try to take younger women under their wings as they navigate the shelter system. They demonstrate a kind of motherly love and concern for the women who are young enough to be their daughters. Often, some unlikely pairs develop. One man with cognitive issues and mental delays may pair up with a big, strong, and well-functioning man, who protects the cognitively impaired one with a kind of brotherly love. Then there are the people who do not want, and believe that they do not need, anyone. However, despite their best attempts to keep others away, their homeless peers still make sure to invite them to go get meals at the local soup kitchen.
However, the truest form of Homeless Love can best be seen in the face of devastation. When one of their own dies, the homeless often rally with one another to mourn their deaths. Too often, the homeless may try to cut their misery short by taking their own lives or nursing their wounds with drugs that may cause their demise. And then, their homeless peers are forced to grieve the loss of their friends. This is partly done by candlelight vigils, performed to honor and preserve the dignity of all homeless lives. When the homeless die, they often do not have the monetary resources to hold proper funerals. And, so, they often die without proper recognition or anyone to claim them as their own. However, Homeless Love usually prevails as the departed person’s homeless friends gather to honor the life of someone who helped his or her peers simply get through homelessness. In a way, the homeless are all partners in the same journey toward peace and stability. Their devotion to one another does not die even in the wake of physical death.
And this, in my opinion, is what true love is all about. It is about loving each other, whether romantically or in the form of friendship, to the end in an unconditional way. It is not about giving of oneself and expecting something in return. It is, instead, a sweet offering of loyalty and companionship. It is not dressed up and does not insist on fancy dinners or extravagant gifts. It sustains us in the darkest of times. This kind of true love is happy with simple conversation, warm hugs, and words of encouragement. It is not proud or boastful; it is humble and quiet. Really, this life of ours, not only makes love look hard, but it makes it work hard. And again, this love can be demonstrated with our families, our friends, our colleagues, or significant others. It is not enough to show up; we must show our beloveds our whole selves, even if we do not look our best, did not get the job, or did not have money for the gift. Really, we must all strive for the kind of love that is bare, not the kind of love that is embellished.
We must strive for Homeless Love.