David Miller | Special To The Sentinel
June 7, 2008
You have heard the saying, â€œYou never know a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes.â€ I would alter that to, â€œYou never know a man until you walk alongside him for a mile.â€
Iâ€™m referring to the homeless in Orlando.
I no longer hand a man on the side of the road $5 and feel good about myself. I now buy us a $5 meal to share and learn his story, his wants and needs, and to walk alongside him.
People loving people will change our world â€” not because we feel bad or guilty, but because we are compelled to help. There must come a time when we stop observing our community and its problems and strive to step into the community and find answers.
In the past eight months I have become involved with an organization called Home Sweet Homeless (Â www.hshomeless.com).
The founders are three young men who made a connection with a homeless man named Alfred. When they got to know Alfred as a human being, they were unable to live the same as they did before.
Orlando is a tourist destination. We all know that. But what you may not know is that a significant portion of our taxes are paid by tourists who enjoy theme parks or downtown.
In order to â€œKeep Orlando Beautiful,â€ the city in 2006 adopted an ordinance that restricts how many people can be fed in city parks, effectively banning any single group from holding large feedings more than twice a year.
The city believes that feeding more than 25 people in a single sitting at Lake Eola, for example, encourages the homeless to congregate together in populated areas, thus hurting the cityâ€™s clean image and driving away the tourists.
There is no such ordinance prohibiting the feeding of dogs or even ducks; a person can feed them whenever he or she wants, just not human beings.
Seems to me the city has it all backward. Â
To be honest, I did not always feel this way. There was a time that my mind-set lined up more with the cityâ€™s than having compassion for the homeless.
I managed a restaurant for a few years and would send the staff outside to chase the homeless away from our customers as they begged for money or dug in the trash. I didnâ€™t want our customers to be scared off. So I treated the homeless like animals; I shooed them away as if they were birds or dogs.
After my experience with Home Sweet Homeless, seeing for myself the human side, I find the Orlando ordinance unjust.
I am not alone. You can now find a group of people walking to a club or a bar in downtown Orlando, and, rather than walking past the homeless â€” all the while trying not to make eye contact for fear of being asked for help â€” they are breaking down socioeconomic walls and talking and sharing.
Since the inception of the group, more than 400 are consistently being fed and having their humanity restored. Churches, community centers and individuals are joining our mission, and the media are taking notice. We are no longer a small group of college and high-school students, but a citywide movement that grows with each event.
Home Sweet Homeless has joined with an organization, The Destiny Foundation (www.battlepoverty.org), which provides food, medical care and the opportunity of government aid. With the foundation, Home Sweet Homeless is an advocate to help hurting families â€œgrab the bottom rungâ€ of the socioeconomic ladder and end the cycle of poverty. This gives the volunteers the opportunity to do more than love through community; it gives them the chance to love through action.
The Destiny Foundation is in its first year and has aided in bringing more than 100 families out of poverty.
My life is forever changed by this experience.
Will you join me?