Ask Lionel: Mixed Feelings in the Fight Against Homelessness    

2018 Columnists Editions Health & Fitness Lionel Shockness Lionel Shockness November

At dinner the other night, my wife, Wanda, my son and I were taking turns reviewing the day’s events. Wanda, said she was feeling terrible about her handling of an earlier incident. 

Wanda had started the day as she always does, with a morning ritual that includes a daily affirmation. This particular morning, she had committed to embracing humanity with love and equanimity. 

However, on her way home from a long day at the office, she was approached by an unkempt young man, apparently homeless, obviously mentally debilitated, who had a torn paper cup and could barely speak. She chose not to look at him. She couldn’t offer him change or the protein bar she normally would have offered. 

Wanda realized that in cutting him off, refusing to see his humanity in its most desperate and depraved state, she was also cutting off a part of herself.

This painful conundrum is happening everyday to more and more of us. A common response to pain – to discomfort – is to turn away. Yet, to be fully sensitive, fully aware human beings amid widespread homelessness, we have to recognize and check the impulse to turn away, as Wanda was attempting to do by telling us about her day.

Another way to engage with the painful reality of pervasive homelessness is to join with others who want to help. Attend community meetings, volunteer, be politically active.

Denial is often a defense against knowing a painful truth and a painful truth of the homelessness problem is that our society often condones blaming, criminalizing and turning away from our fellow human beings who are homeless.

But in a system that has gotten so out of whack that homelessness and tent encampments are commonplace, those responses lack reason and compassion.

Homelessness is a living nightmare for those experiencing it. Seeing their pain, sharing their pain and sharing your feelings with each other won’t solve a problem that has gotten so big, but it helps us to move in the direction of solving it.

Lionel Shockness is a psychotherapist. If you would like to submit a question for Lionel to answer in this column, please write to

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