Have you ever had an experience that impacts you so strongly that it leaves you struggling for the proper words? Being an author who is known for his often-outspoken narratives, this is wholly uncharacteristic of me.
Last Friday night (December 16, 2016) was our 2nd annual Project Winter Warm Up and after nearly a week, I still find myself unable to fully process the experience. I have no words that can adequately and accurately describe the range of emotions that I felt that night. Happiness, fear, anger (that society has mostly ignored these humans), sadness, joy, respect, pity, hope, pride… and an overwhelming sense of LOVE… I literally felt like I was “high” and experienced sensory overload on so many levels.
Try to imagine yourself stripped of everything. Your home, your car, your clothes, your dignity, identity… and self-worth. You are essentially a nomad… lost and wandering… perpetually in survival mode. Living day-by-day. Cold, hungry, and fearful for your life. Externally, the world looks down on you as a second-class citizen… a reject of humanity. Internally, you feel like a failure.
This is essentially an exercise in futility for most of us as it is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to completely put yourself in this situation. First world problems, right?
I was born into an upper-middle class family. My father was a physician and my mother was a teacher. Thankfully, my brother and I never had to worry about being cold, hungry, or safe. I was always aware of the homeless “problem”… but, 2 years ago while attending a conference in downtown Atlanta, I drove through a large underpass that was filled with homeless men, women, and children… and something “snapped” inside of me. I KNEW I had to do something. After ordering 100 cheeseburgers and rounding up a few friends, we tried to find that bridge again… and while we were unable to, we spent the evening handing out cheeseburgers and drinks to the homeless citizens on the streets of Atlanta.
On every subsequent trip I’ve made to Atlanta, it has been a focal point to try to find that particular bridge again.
This year we found the bridge. Over the course of a few hours, we gave out around 200 coats, 300 blankets, 250+ pairs of socks, hats, scarves, gloves, underwear, toiletries, etc. All in all, it was extremely successful, and I’m SO incredibly thankful for EVERYONE who helped make this event so successful. Many, many folks stepped up to help (in many ways), and without their dedication, time, money, and energy, Project Winter Warm Up II would not have been possible.
While I won’t pretend to know what it feels like to be homeless… sleeping on the street nightly… wondering when (and if) you would survive another day… for one brief night I felt close enough to the people who are… that I “get it.”
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Robert F. Kennedy