Invisible Neighbors

November 1, 2015


There were 8,742 homeless men, women and children counted on the streets of San Diego this year – these are the homeless folks we can see.  What about those we can’t see or who are visible during the day on the street corners, but disappear into the night into a car, or a friend’s couch, or under a bridge.  We call them our ‘Invisible Neighbors’.

When most people encounter a homeless person on the street or standing on a corner asking for a hand out, they are in an uncomfortable situation because they don’t know what to do for these homeless individuals.  They may ignore them, they may give them some food, they may give them money, or they may even yell harsh words at them.  But these homeless folks have nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and no hope for their future.  They are simply trying to survive.

Did you know that 80% of the homeless on the streets are NOT there because they choose to be, but because of some unforeseen circumstance in their lives – mortgage failure, a natural catastrophe, exorbitant medical bills, fleeing domestic violence, teenagers turned away from their homes, seniors with no family, physically disabled with no resources, veterans who can’t find a job after serving in the military – and the list goes on.


Richard Gere recently starred in a movie called “Time Out of Mind” in which he plays a homeless man.  It was “very simple, living in the moment,” he said of the role. “I’m hungry, I’ll try to find something to eat. I’m tired, I’ll try to find somewhere to sleep. There’s no job, there’s no appointments.”

Mr. Gere, who said he was never recognized while “living” as George on New York street corners, came to understand the fear people have of the homeless. In addition to turning down his entreaties for change, passers-by would even avoid eye contact.  “I was a black hole that people were terrified of being sucked into,” he said. “We ended up shooting for about 45 minutes on the street, and no one paid any attention to me.”

“It wasn’t about me,” Gere said. “It was a perception about all of us that we tend to just skate along the surface of things. We never stop to really look and feel beyond the surface of what we see and there’s a whole deeper, more profound reality below that.”  Even in the shelters that Richard Gere and the director visited, they found that America’s homeless crave not only connection, but also community.

“In simple ways, they are just trying to find a connection,” he said. “I think we were able to portray this basic need of trying to find some level of community, even in a shelter. These folks are essentially protecting themselves because they are terrified of their continuing struggle just to survive”, he said.


Do not be afraid of the homeless and act like they don’t exist – let them know that you DO SEE them.  Simply let these desperate folks know that someone does care about them by offering a kind word or offer to help them find a shelter.

Yes, some of the homeless have become very skilled panhandlers, but most are simply looking for a ‘hand up’ and not a ‘hand out’ to help them get back on their feet.  They don’t want to be dependent on you, they want to make their own way again, to regain their self-worth and eventually become self-sufficient.

Contact your local shelter or select one of the homeless or hunger agencies on the HomeAid San Diego ‘Giving Calendar’ this November to do your part in helping our ‘Invisible Neighbors’.  Thank you!

Alexis Parker

Executive Director, HomeAid San Diego

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