When I was a kid I was constantly playing ‘interview.’ (Wow. I think I just realized I was a huge dork.) I would ask myself a series of questions as a journalist and then answer them as myself…or rather, the self I wanted to be someday. The majority of the time my interviewer was a journalist from Sports Illustrated and I was answering questions about what my life was like as the wife of baseball’s greatest center fielder; Brett Butler. (Go Big BLUE!)
Given the recent #FitchTheHomeless buzz I have been asked many questions regarding some of my views on caring for those in need, as well a why and how I ended up working on Skid Row. I may be older now, but old habits die-hard. While laying in bed last night I interviewed my current self (still a dork?) and amused myself quite a bit while doing it. (yeah ok, still a dork.)
Ellen: Good Afternoon, R!
Me: Hi Ellen! I am so excited to be on your show.
Ellen: I am excited too. It’s lovely to see you again. Let’s jump right too it, shall we? You work with homeless and formerly homeless people, correct? What compelled you to do that?
Me: There are a couple of things really, Ellen. For one, I was sort of a troubled teenager which led me to make some pretty colorful, to be mild, choices. I got into drugs and some other stuff at one point and thought it was quite possible I was going to end up dead. I obviously didn’t or I wouldn’t be sitting here, but it was a very dark time littered with intense shame, guilt and fear that I was losing my mind and potentially my life. I can say with complete conviction that had it not been for God and the support system around me, I would not be here today.
That love I experienced and still experience today is what compels me. I want to be a supportive figure for people who rarely have one and often times even when they do, it’s sporadic at best. I have come to learn that many times that is what separates homeless people from people with homes; support.
Ellen: Love and support really can make a huge difference then, can’t it? What, can I ask you then, do you think is the most beneficial way that someone could care for a homeless person, if they were wanting to help out?
Me: There are so many ways, but I would say the greatest way is with your time and attitude. Where I work at least [Skid Row] there is a lot of need, but there are also many services in the area, so food and clothing are rarely the greatest demand. I’d say the biggest problem and therefore biggest need is a more of an emotional support. A friend. A person who will go to the doctor with them when they are afraid to go alone. A person who will listen when they are frustrated and laugh with them when they are happy. Someone who is consistent.
Homeless people are really no different from anyone else, they want to be loved and accepted as a friend, not a project or political cause. They remember the way they were cared for and respected over the way they were mindlessly handed money. They want to know you will not judge them even if they are struggling. I recognize this because I am the same.
Ellen: So are you saying we don’t need to donate resources?
Me: No, I am not. There are still plenty of physical needs. We absolutely need more resources. More homes. There is a constant need for financial support for services and individuals. I for one, prefer to donate to individuals over organizations, even though I work for one that is financially supported in part by donations. [Thank you donors!]
That is not the mindset that all service providers have, but I do. I think my preference comes from the human aspect and the exchange that comes from giving someone something that fulfills a need. It shows them you trust them. It’s a pretty amazing bonding experience when you look someone in the eye and hand them something they value, without judgement. That’s the key. It’s easy to judge and forget how broken we are ourselves when we view someone as ‘less than.’ When we begin to see each human being, no matter their circumstances, as people of value we start to see the whole world differently. We change and in turn can make change.
I am certain I have given people money and they have used it for things I wish they wouldn’t, but in the end, I’d rather error on the side of generosity. Every conviction is different though and I can respect that as long as it’s done in love.
Ellen: Lastly, before I bring out Pharrell Williams to drop us some fat beats, Portia and I just adore you, would you like to come over for dinner tonight?
Me: Ellen, yes of course! We adore you and Porche. I will have Brett Butler cancel our dinner reservations and we’ll plan to be there by 8:00!