Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post: Sharing Their Stories by Debra R. Borys


I spent over eight years volunteering with the homeless on the streets of Chicago and Seattle. That experience not only changed the way I look at life, but also inspired me to tell some of the stories I heard there.

Fiction can be a great way to educate without preaching. That’s why I chose to write Painted Black, my recently published suspense novel that combines the gritty world of Chicago’s homeless community with murder, corporate greed, and a bizarre collection of freeze-dried corpses. By adding a twist of reality to a fast paced plot, I hope to debunk some of the myths about street culture without the reader even realizing it.

My goal is to take away some of the fear and prejudices most people feel when confronted by street people. Nine times out of ten, giving someone a smile and saying, “Sorry, not today” if asked for money is going to provide the person with more than they usually get. Respect and acknowledgement of their presence goes a long way in satisfying the needs of a homeless person.

Here are a few suggestions for other ways to react to solicitations:
  1. If you have time, offer to take them into a nearby coffee shop or restaurant and buy them something to eat or drink. If they truly are hungry, they’ll be happy to take you up on it. Even if they say no, they will respect you for offering.
  2.  If somewhere to eat isn’t close by but another place is, such as a drug or clothing store, ask if you can get them something from inside. Buying inexpensive items like a pair of socks, a trial-size tube of toothpaste, or even a candy bar or pack of gum fulfills basic needs.
  3. Instead of carrying money in your pocket or purse, carry a couple of apples, energy bars or similar items. Offer to share the treat.
  4. If you live in a metro area with a transit system that offers public transit tokens, carry a few extra one trip passes in your pocket. Often times people will request money saying they need a dollar for the bus.  If you have a bus pass to give them instead, that should satisfy their need.
  5. If you aren’t financially able to do any of the above, offer them information on homeless resources that may be available to them. You might want to print up small cards listing contact information and addresses of some of the nearby shelter or food banks. Even simpler, just make yourself familiar with the name and general location of one or two places. They may already know about the Youth Shelter that opens at nine p.m. in the University District, but will appreciate the suggestion even so.
If you make any of the offers above and they refuse, you shouldn’t be offended, or jump to the conclusion that they are asking for money only so that they can use it for drugs or alcohol. The most important thing to do when confronted by a homeless person is to NOT jump to conclusions. Keep in mind that the person in front of you is a PERSON first, just like you. Unless you know a person’s whole story, you should never pass judgment on how they are living their lives.

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AUTHOR BIO:
Former Chicagoan DEBRA R. BORYS is a freelance writer living in Seattle who spent eight years volunteering with the homeless.  She is a freelance writer and the author of several published short stories.  She is currently working on a second novel in the Jo Sullivan series which reflects the reality of throw away youth striving to survive.  More information about Ms. Borys and Painted Black can be found at www.debra-r-borys.com and www.paintedblacknovel.com.

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