Most of us have never wrestled with questions like, “Where is my next meal going to come from—and will I have to sell my body (again) to get it?”
Most of us live in a world of “champagne problems.” I know this because if you are reading this, you have access to the internet and a mobile device or computer. We live in a cozy bubble where our biggest grievances are things like the high-speed Wi-Fi is not working properly on our flight, or the meal we ordered through Uber Eats was delivered later than expected.
Face-to-face with the issues
We live in a world of relative deprivation. We likely have no idea what absolute poverty feels like.
Recently, I got a glimpse of what this is like, alongside many Accenture colleagues as part of the Executive Sleepout for Covenant House, a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of youth homelessness. An Accenture Skills to Succeed partner, Covenant House is more than just a homeless shelter—it is “a powerful human rights movement for vulnerable youth.”
The sleepout aims to bring people like me closer to the people who have been face-to-face with hunger and homelessness, and sometimes human trafficking, abuse and addiction. Sadly, some of these young people come from families who can afford to take care of them, but their parents kicked them out simply because they are LGBTQ.
Sleeping on the streets for a cause
For one cold November night, we slept outdoors to raise awareness and funds. This experience was about showing solidarity, but it only scratches the surface of what these kids have experienced. Some of them spent more than 900 nights on the streets before coming to Covenant House—and without a brand-new sleeping bag and winter clothes, as many of us had.
The heart of it for me was talking with these kids and hearing their tragic stories, coupled with how much hope they now have for the future. You cannot ignore an issue when it’s right in front of you and has a name and a face.
Pope Francis once talked about this in terms of the “throwaway” culture we are allowing: “If in so many parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news; it seems normal. It cannot be this way! Yet these things become the norm: That some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news.”
There is no way we can fully comprehend the level of deprivation many people have experienced. However, we can learn to treat them as our brothers and sisters, and that all starts with a genuine, caring concern for others. And with getting out there in the community and engaging, face-to-face, as a volunteer.
This Giving Tuesday, I leave you with encouragement from one of the formerly homeless youth we encountered: “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”
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