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Original Illustration by Gina Escandon for Her Campus Media
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Cal Lutheran chapter.

              California is known to be an expensive state to live in and the affluent city I’m from is no different. Being nestled between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, it’s not uncommon for your friends to be living in million-dollar homes and driving nice cars. While my family doesn’t come anywhere near to how well off a lot of people from this community are, I always felt blessed and never felt inferior or like I had to meet certain standards to fit in with the community, my community. It wasn’t until a close family member of mine fell onto unfortunate circumstances and became homeless that I felt like our world turned upside down. I couldn’t understand how this was happening to someone so close to me. How did it come to this point? What could I have done to prevent this? Where do we go from here?

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Tessa Pesicka / Her Campus

              We get told so many stories about people pretending to be homeless or in need and sitting on corners holding signs asking for help. We’re told that they’re scammers and that we shouldn’t help because we don’t know what they’ll do with the money. We hear references to “dressing like a hobo” when someone is downgrading their outfit. We’re told that the homeless people are ruining our community and we need to find a way to get rid of them. I’ll never forget getting an email notification from Nextdoor and it was a post about someone complaining that there were so many homeless people in our community and they hoped that “law enforcement would not put up with it” because of how it may affect their personal property value. We’re told so many things that degrade the homeless even further, that we no longer see them as people to care about and show compassion for.

              Hearing these things from my community hurt and had me feeling a silent shame that I still carry despite my relative no longer being homeless. I never felt like I could talk about this because I didn’t feel that anyone would understand or care; and honestly, I didn’t want them to view me any less because I saw how people seemed to feel about the situation. Suddenly, I felt isolated from my community. I was connected to what my community had been complaining about. The time that my relative was homeless was scary and isolating, and that’s just from my perspective as their family member, so I can’t imagine what it’s like being the one that had to live on the streets and fend for yourself every night.

              While I can’t tell you a firsthand perspective of what it’s like to have been homeless, having this happen to someone so close to me still managed to have a significant effect on me. It feels selfish and inconsiderate to say that, given that I still safely went to sleep with a roof over my head and meal to eat every night. No one tells you about how a loved one being homeless can affect you, but it does.

              There’s a silent shame that I’ve carried with me and it’s a very isolating experience. While people want to be there for you and mean well in their attempts to support you, they don’t really understand. Living in an affluent community can make it hard to relate to this type of struggle without wondering why the person that is homeless can’t just find a place to live or do better. While I wasn’t homeless, it still felt shameful to have not been in the position to be able to care for and protect my loved one before it came to the point of becoming homeless.

              Every day and night that my loved one was homeless, I was full of worry for their safety.  There were times when my loved one was robbed and beaten up while they were sleeping and we were notified that they were in the hospital for their injuries that they will never receive justice for. From that point on, whenever we couldn’t get ahold of this relative and contact them, it became routine to check-in at the hospitals, police station, and the morgue in search of them.  Every time an accident or an unidentified person was reported in the news, I was terrified of that being a report about my loved one. It shouldn’t be a weekly routine to be checking in with the hospitals, police department, or the morgue, but that was my secret reality while I had to act like everything was normal when I was attending school, seeing friends, and going to work.

               It’s painful witnessing a loved one experience the unknown of homelessness and it’s painful feeling like you’re alone in your attempts to try to support them because most people can’t relate. Thankfully, my loved one found their way out of homelessness and has a safe place to call home, meals to not go hungry, and a job to provide for themselves. That doesn’t change the hurt that homelessness has caused our family or make the pain from that experience healed just because they’re no longer homeless. There’s still a continued fear that this all could happen again. 

              Going through this experience has taught me the greatest sense of empathy, patience, and kindness. While I’d typically describe myself as reserved, shy, and introverted, I now go out of my way to acknowledge those that most of society tends to ignore, even if it’s just to say “Hi!” and “How are you?” Every time an opportunity for donating to food banks, making care packages, or providing meals to the homeless comes up, I am grateful and do my best to participate. I could only pray and hope that people were showing that type of love and kindness to my relative in one of their lowest moments and that I can make that type of difference for those that are still struggling with this.

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           The next time you come across someone that’s homeless, please have some empathy and remember that they’re still a person, they still matter, and they’re not just some inconvenience. From my experience, those that are homeless valued someone stopping for a minute to talk and listen to them more than they valued the money (though that’s probably still appreciated). They want to feel seen and acknowledged, to be treated like they’re human. Show them kindness and pray that you and your loved ones won’t have to face the hardship that is homelessness.

Sabrina Riggan

Cal Lutheran '20

Sabrina Riggan is a senior at California Lutheran University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Communication. She is passionate about dogs, all things entertainment, online shopping, anything that can come in pink, strolls through Trader Joe's, and memes relating to her being a Scorpio.
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