How to Help the Homeless to Help Others

By Antonio Gonzales

As a child, I would complain about being poor. On hearing me, my mother would always say, “When you think your life is hard, someone else has it harder!” Over the many years, there are times I may have forgotten. (I’m only human.) And other times, I held that message close to my heart as I journeyed through life.

When volunteering with homeless families in shelters, my purpose is to show love and respect, trying to be as thoughtful as can by helping them to help themselves.

Well, how about inspiring them to help others? One would think it’s not the reason for being there. However, it’s actually the perfect time and place to do so.

It actually was not my intention to talk about helping others. It just sort of organically happened. One day, I was talking to a large group of teenaged girls and asked the question: What would you like to see change in your enviro​n​ment? It could be in school, the neighborhood, or the world. It was wonderful to see hands raise in the air quickly. Some girls wanted to see the end of bullying, some the end of teenaged pregnancy, and some the end of gun violence in New York.

Then one girl raised her hand and said, “How can we change anything? We are just girls in homeless shelters.”

I quickly responded and assured that sweet child that she is more than that. She is in this world for a purpose. She’s a beautiful individual with the power to do anything she wants.

At that point, I realized that it was important to share with them that I once thought the same thing. “How could I help anyone?” Then one day, I was so depressed and lonely that I walked into a hospice, started volunteering, and my life changed forever. That event is the reason I was actually standing in the shelter that day, at that very moment.

I then decided to share with the group that I actually had no qualifications to be in the shelter. No degree or formal education. I actually never even finished high school! My qualification to be there was the fact that I too once was homeless.

I then asked each girl if they could go to a shelter and support other girls by showing them that they were not alone, would do it? They all said a big, “Yes!!!” I smiled so hard and thought to myself, “This may be the answer: Get homeless families to support homeless families!”

I then had an idea: How can I show these girls that they have the power to bring change and change lives? Then someone came to mind: I Am Malala, the Girl Who Was Shot in Her Head by the Taliban.

Stay tuned for my next installment in empowering girls to believe that they too can make a difference.

Image from Pixabay