Reaching out

This year for Christmas, I received a book from my father that really challenged my view on a part of our community with which I seldom come in contact: the homeless.

The book “Under the Overpass” by Mike Yankowski explores the daring leap of faith the author took from his stable life. For five months, Yankowski and his friend spent their lives on the street with only a sleeping bag, a backpack, their guitars and one change of clothes. Feeling called to do something radical for his faith and to better understand an extremely overlooked portion of the population, Yankowski makes the ultimate move of empathy.

I’m not much of a reader at all. However, this book I could not put down. I finished it within a few days of receiving it, each page a revelation of how cruelly society often treats the homeless, as if they aren’t people at all. It sadly revealed how cold the community can be to those most in need, and how many looming stereotypes keep us from helping the homeless.

With each encounter and situation Yankowski came across, my heart longed for change. Countless times the author alludes to the waste of food or ungratefulness of those who have plenty. I recalled all the times I had failed to finish my leftovers or walked over to my bursting pantry, claiming there was nothing to eat. Yankowski and his friend panhandle for money to eat and countless people walk by and ignore them; I thought of all the times I had blatantly passed by someone in need.

Yankowski also met fellow homeless people with incredible stories. Many have fought a long battle against drugs and addictions, making me consider how one bad choice can start a lifetime of hurt and destruction. Yet many, though struggling with addiction, still had such big, beautiful hearts, such as one homeless man who in his own desperation with his tiny government check, buys groceries to cook breakfast for a group of homeless people. In juxtaposition to these beautiful but broken people,

Yankowski mentions other non-homeless people, who are cold-hearted, ungrateful, and selfish, but claim to have faith. In these moments, I contemplated the times my actions had failed to match my words, and all the inconsistencies of character in my life.

The greatest thing I took from this book was the importance of reaching out to those in need, and rather than just talking a big game, doing something about it. Maybe Yankowski’s move seemed a little radical, but sometimes making this world a better place takes a little bit of radical thinking. Start small by helping out a food pantry or bringing the man outside of K-mart a meal.

It’s important to be discerning when helping those in need. It’s much better to offer clothing or a hot meal than money, something that Yankowski discusses with the wisdom he gained on the streets. Even a conversation with that person could brighten someone’s day, just acknowledging that he or she exists and are not forgotten. At one point in the book, Yankowski mentions that he feels like scenery rather than a person. Are we to rob people of their humanity because they don’t have the nice things we have or because we think they made some terrible mistake and it’s their entire fault?

I think as college students it’s easy to think we’re broke enough as it is to help someone out, but compared to most of the world, many of us are extremely wealthy, especially if we can afford to go to college. Ferris is a great community of serving students; let’s not forget about those who have little, right here in Big Rapids. n