March 22, 2013
A VOLUNTEER’S PERSPECTIVE
By Pete Carley
I’ve been aware of the problem of homelessness in Philadelphia at least since I started working here in 1999. When I moved to the city in 2003, I lived just off of Rittenhouse Square. I often met homeless people on the street near my apartment and even in the laundromat where I did my laundry. I wanted to help, but it can be difficult as an individual to address homelessness.
I would give people money if I had it, or buy them food. That seemed more like an economic exchange, rather than an act of kindness. You’re meeting somone’s immediate need, but that can hamper the possibility of any meaningful exchange. It can also make you weary or resentful when you don’t have enough cash in your pocket, or when someone thinks you haven’t given them enough, or when you offer them food when they really want cash.
When I am at BSM working the mailroom, I meet people who are already in a much better place, at least temporarily. They are in out of the cold, they often come straight from the meal upstairs, and they are surrounded by others. They are often with their friends. Even though I only know a small handful of the guests by name, I am getting to know some of them as individuals. I’m getting to see that our guests are not all the same and that homelessness is a condition, and not an identity. And that makes me a better advocate for those who are homeless.