Yesterday, a man stopped by my office with a backpack on his back and a tote bag in hand. He was wearing hearing aids in both ears and seeking a warm meal and place to rest from the cold and rain. We talked for a while about his life, his experiences seeking help, and his desire to just be seen as a human being. He shared that the reason he often avoids food banks and shelters is because he is often treated like just a number at those places, like a problem to be solved. And all he really wants is to be treated with dignity.
This interaction struck me as unusual, not because of the conversation or the sentiments expressed, but because of the location. Homelessness and need exists all over, but it’s easier to picture this encounter happening on a street corner in Seattle than in a quiet suburban road between rows of homes. When poverty and need is depicted in the media, we see pictures of tent cities and cardboard signs, but in the suburbs, that need often goes unnoticed.
In our neighborhood, homelessness generally looks less like an older adult living under a bridge and more like a teenager couch surfing because of turmoil in his or her home. Instead of encampments, we have squatters. There are far less students in our schools on free and reduced lunch plans and far less who go home on weekends unsure of where there next meal will come from. But occasionally I see kids with backpacks wandering down Bothell-Everett Hwy with no particular destination in mind.
But just because the need is not as obvious as it is in larger cities, does not mean it deserves less of our attention. And with the invisibility of the kind of poverty we are attuned to, we are left with a sense that need doesn’t exist here in North Creek, or in the suburbs in general.
How can we be more aware of the needs that exist in our community?
What does need really look like in the land of half a million dollar homes?
How can we be good neighbors in the face of this largely invisible need?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll seek out some conversations with people in our community who may have more of an insight into these questions. And if you have any stories or insights to share, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.