Let’s talk about poverty. Poverty. Poor. Living under the Poverty Line. These terms and phrases we hear on a daily basis to describe a person in need–but what do they necessitate exactly? Food? Shelter? Different clothing? Perhaps, but when we lean in to take a closer look we find that lacking physical objects is hardly the only reason why these folks would describe their lives as scarce.
It is in appreciating this truth and flipping our perception of poverty on its head, that the layer of brokenness will be lifted, and the true identity of the person underneath will surely be revealed and allowed to grow. And for the almost 400,000 people in Orange County living below the federal poverty line, it is paramount that this understanding be obtained in order for the lives being reflected in these statistics to be given hope again.
“We appreciate the clothing and we appreciate the food, but more than anything, we value your friendship,” said Larry, the first ‘friend without a home’ that Tyler and Hughie made years ago. The non-profit organization Povertees was founded in 2007 when CEO, Tyler Patterson, began sewing pockets on shirts to sell to his fellow college students, his profits paid for food for the homeless men and women he would meet.
That simple, passionate act turned into what would become Tyler and Povertees President, Hughie Hughes’, infrastructure for creating an organization that made clothing in order to employ people transitioning out of homelessness. Although not all of us are going to start a non-profit company towards this mission, there are significant ways these two men have found in their journey that can expand the awareness to those of us who share a community with brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness.
We sat down with Hughie to gain some perspective on what is most needed in the lives of those currently living on the streets, his answers begging us to view the humanity with which those without a home possess as our common ground between those of us who do.
The first time Hughie visited Skid Row in Downtown LA, home to a population anywhere between 17,000-23,000 people experiencing homelessness, he said that he wasn’t expecting to connect easily to the folks he was meeting. “Quite literally after my first time to this area, I had a monumental realization: what I thought was funny, was funny to them too. We could make fun of and mess with each other like real friends.”
The understanding that came after this initial sitting with people that had the reputation of being so different from the own lives we lead, was quickly proven to be so deeply false. What was gained, was the insight that these humans living in exposed, rough conditions, were no different from the inside, out.
The college-aged pals continued to bring food and commune with their friends and acquaintances of Skid Row and would do just that: commune. “Every time we gave them food, we sat with them; it was real communion,” described Hughie, “we would offer a sandwich, and they would offer half of it right back to us to eat.”
Hughie and Tyler continued to make trips to DTLA up to five times a week, and as they did, they began to classify the people they spent time with as their friends who happened to not have a home. It was this shift in perspective that ushered in an appreciation for their friends’ humanity, an appreciation that continued to grow as many of them narrated their stories to Hughie and Tyler. This act of vulnerability forged bridges of relatability, and Hughie and Tyler’s new friends said that they were now being “seen as people,” an unfortunate rarity for the majority of them.
Through the many experiences Hughie had visiting his friends on Skid Row, he shared that “consistency is the key component, allowing trust to be built with each and every story we hear.” This consistency, this availability, is what has made the difference in their new friends’ lives, and lucky for us, it’s those factors that we too can offer as individuals and a community.
We may not house the same passions of these two men to start an organization that fights for the rights of the population living in poverty, but, we do have the eyes to see the need, and ears to hear the stories of the human beings living in the present time without homes.
As Eastside continues to make efforts in our North Orange County community, will you join us? Join us in loving on the individuals and families living life on the streets as we choose to bend an ear and sit a minute, choose to recognize the same humanity that resides in each of us: the need for connection, the need to be heard and understood.
Efforts such as these will begin to not only shift ourselves out of the possible patterns we’ve accrued over time, but by being available, we will send a message to our neighbors experiencing homelessness that they are so worth the effort to be known.
For specific ways to get involved with Eastside as we seek to love on our neighbors experiencing homelessness, visit eastside.com/local. And may we each walk through the weeks to come with a new lense on poverty and those longing to overcome its grasp.