Walking the streets of Hamilton put poverty in a new light

Written by Sarah Evangeline

When I first moved to Hamilton, Ont., I worked at a men’s shelter. I didn’t own a car, so I also walked everywhere. For the first time in my life, poverty was right in my face. I realized how easily the separation of a car window can desensitize us to not give someone living on the streets a second glance.

One day, I met a girl who couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than me. Her hands were cold from the winter air, her hair was tangled, and scars ran down her cheeks. I was standing in my winter coat, all bundled up giving out soup. Our eyes met and I could see a glimmer of hope within her.

She thanked me continuously for the soup, a simple bowl of soup. I saw a reflection of myself in this girl. I have no idea what it’s like to go hungry or not have a bed to sleep in, but I too have experienced deep wounds that have left scars. Sometimes I too feel like a tangled mess inside.

After this girl walked away, I had to sit by myself for a while. Tears rolling down my face, I asked God, “Why her and not me?”

“The poor hold up a mirror to our most uncomfortable truths,” wrote activist Craig Greenfield on Instagram. “And so we push them to the ragged edges of our communities so that we won’t have to face our own failures and addictions. This is what we mean when we say someone is ‘marginalized’—they have been banished to the margins.”

It can be so easy to take life for granted when all our needs are met.

It was in that moment, crying alone, that I realized how desensitized I had become to those less fortunate than me.

I wish we lived in a world where children didn’t go hungry, where boys and girls weren’t trafficked for other people’s sexual pleasure. I wish parents didn’t lose their jobs and could always cook three meals a day for their families. I wish I could walk home without seeing anyone lying in a sleeping bag because they have no home.

Still, there are those in this world who are fighting for equality and fairness. I think of Jesus’ selfless love and lifestyle while He was on earth. Jesus walked the streets healing the sick and giving sight to the blind. Jesus restored people’s lives unconditionally. Jesus had family and friends, yet He never made a home with four walls or stayed in one place (Matthew 8:20). Jesus took the lowest position possible to give us everlasting life.

So, how can we love those who have been forgotten? According to the life of Jesus, grace and love go together. One cannot work without the other. We can imitate His selfless love if we take our eyes off of ourselves and try to see other human beings in a way that acknowledges their true worth.

Instead of crossing the street to avoid someone, we can make eye contact and wish them a good day. Instead of ignoring those experiencing poverty, we can research what our cities are doing to help them and get involved in helping. These are our sisters, brothers, friends, fathers, and daughters. Selfless love is the only thing that transforms the human heart.