I’ve spent the last year hanging around people who hug you like they mean it. And it’s softened me up. So I get what that does for people who are homeless.
God, it is a relief not to be judged. To have people be glad to see you for no particular reason. To be regarded as valuable just because you’re there and breathing.
Today, Street Angels, the homeless outreach group I work with, put on a Christmas party for the people we see on outreach – these are folks who live outside. They live in tents under the freeway overpass, in the woods, under bridges, other places where they’re pretty invisible to regular passers-by.
There were probably two hundred folks at this party when we came, many I recognized from last winter’s warming room where I volunteered in the early mornings and where I steered clear of hugs thinking I didn’t know people well enough to hug them. My concept of hugging then centered on incrementalism.
In the food line, a very tall thin man with a gray beard and an old Carhartt jacket turned around to say hello and Merry Christmas and then he hugged me like I was his sister although I’d never seen him before. And I hugged him back like I meant it, like I learned how to do this year.