Last night, my 7 year old son and I had a “sleepover” at our church – we were staying as overnight hosts for the homeless guests that were sleeping at our church as part of Families Moving Forward. (We do this because there is something very special about being able to run around the church in your pajamas.) This morning, on our drive back home to shower and get ready for school, we had an interesting conversation about the experience. Surprisingly, it was instigated by my son. Here’s how the talk went:
7YO: You know, Mom, those people didn’t really look like they were homeless.
Me: Oh, yeah. What do you mean? What does homeless look like?
7YO: Well, not like that. I mean, the girl in room 4 kind of looked like our cousin Mya. And the woman with the 3 kids kind of looked like Aunt Mary. And the older woman at the end of the hall, she could have been Grandma Carlota. They looked like people we know. They looked like people just like us.
Me: Yes, it is true. They could be people in our family.
7YO: So people should stop calling them homeless. That gives them a bad image that is just not true.
Me: I agree. There is a lot of stigma about the word homeless. What word would you use instead?
7YO: We should say they are people, just like us, who need to find homes. People would think of them different if we said it that way.
ME: I think you are right. People would see them differently.
And I was struck by the truth of his thoughtful words. About how people would be seen differently if we called them “people just like us, who need to find homes” or “people just like us, who need to find jobs.” That we could use “people just like us, who need more food” or “people just like us, who need access to healthcare.” And what about “people just like us, who need a little help sometimes.” Let’s get rid of all the words like jobless, homeless, and poor. They stigmatize. Instead, let’s always orient ourselves towards others as if they were “just like us” (because they are).
Let’s eradicate the word Homeless and the stigma that goes with it. It would change how we see those “people just like us.” It would change the way we see the entire world.