The Invisible People

Thelma Smith, “Capoeisitera”

My good fiber arts friend of many years, Thelma Smith, made this series of homeless people she met up with when she was searching for her son, Norman, who suffered from mental/emotional issues probably stemming from a developmental challenge. She generally made the quilts bigger than real life, painted them and then stitched them. She also put very few facial features on them in one way giving them dignity, and in another way showing them as the invisible people in our society. This series of quilts always held great appeal for me and I always wished she could have put it out into a public gallery where a lot of people could see it and realize how important and unaddressed this problem is today.

Left Turn Lane Series Quilt by Thelma Smith

I think of the homeless people all the time. I have had young people show up in my classrooms, and when I offered them food that I used to bring for my teens who were in my study class, they would come back everyday just to get a breakfast/lunch though they were not actually in my classroom. They would come during a break when the other children were gone and always would talk to me. I remember one boy who told me his folks and he and his sisters and brothers were sleeping on the floor in a store owned by someone who knew them. I always made sure he took extra food. I cannot begin to imagine what a child who is homeless must go through emotionally, having to keep it a secret to prevent being bullied, and arriving at school hungry in the morning. The homeless are “cracks in the pavement.” We see them, but pass right by them as we would step on those cracks.

Thelma Smith – Left Turn Lane Series

I’ve seen and tried to help a lot of homeless people in my life. Sometimes the people are clearly suffering so much, I could not possibly help but cry. How sad is it to see an elderly woman in barely enough raggedy clothes to protect her from the cold, pushing a recycled wheelchair likely from a garbage throwaway, with her husband in it, and the only blanket covering him as she tried to protect and push him to the free clinic near where I used to live. But the saddest thing is how others turn away from them, pretending they don’t exist.

Left Turn Lane Series by Thelma Smith

All of these people at one time or another were probably just like you and me. It may have been only for a very short time when they were very young, but we need to remember that they are human beings just like us. We cannot know what happened in their lives to make them into homeless people, but it had to be dramatic. No one wants to live out in the rain or snow, and to sleep on concrete or on the cold ground, to have to find food in trash cans, or to go to the bathroom out wherever they can find a place, and have no way to clean themselves at all. And no one wants to get hurt, tortured, raped, or murdered perhaps for as little as the blanket they are using to keep warm.

Wild Bill, Thelma Smith’s Left Turn Lane Series

Their need to communicate is no different than ours. I remember when I was out of work from one of those jobs with a big title, and could not find a job, not because I was not qualified, but I was overqualified. I too had a short period of semi-homelessness. Luckily I had a lot of friends who would let me stay a night or two at their home and feed me and my pets, and I did find another job quickly. The time was never wasted. I was working as a volunteer at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, a teaching hospital, and if I worked four hours, I got a free lunch in the doctor’s cafeteria, which had the best food. I would get a salad, a full meal, and dessert. So I would eat my salad for lunch, wrap up my dinner and desert and have that later. I could go to the free clinic and get in quickly since I had my volunteer vest on, and I could also get needed shots downstairs in the hospital. I quickly taught myself how to go in the library and do my own medical research to determine pretty much accurately every time what I had, and the doctors in the free clinic always looked forward to treating me because I saved them time and always made the correct diagnosis. It is a habit that has followed me thru life, and I have made the right choices every time by doing my research.

I had the priviledge of working as a volunteer in the Neonatal Section of the hospital, where we treated hundreds of women with all manner of issues – homelessness, drugs, poor prenatal care, etc. I was responsible for the Newborn Hearing Screening, and I did my job well. The people I worked with actually wanted to hire me, but as hospitals tend to do things, they decided to hire a service instead so that they would not have the expense of an employee (i.e. benefits, etc.) to deal with. I also taught the women in the Neonatal Section about the benefits of breastfeeding when it was possible. The drug addicts could not nurse their babies, and it was heartbreaking to watch the babies shaking and crying all the time from the damage done to their tiny systems.

One night a Hispanic young lady came in and had her baby. It was premature, and would have to stay in the hospital, but she wanted to breastfeed her baby. I suspect she came over to the U.S. as a mule, or person who came over with drugs inserted somewhere in her body, a very common thing. We fixed her up with the equipment to pump her breasts for the baby, and she left for the group home she was staying in. She was NOT one of the drug people at all, and a very sweet and very young woman. I doubt she was older than 17, and possibly younger. She never came back to to the hospital, and we suspected that she was picked up again by the men who watch out for the mules, or some other form of human trafficking. So the problem was that the police could not look for someone they knew absolutely nothing about. She was literally an invisible person. Now a child will potentially grow up without ever knowing its mother, and a mother somewhere might be mourning her loss, or perhaps be even dead. We will never know. I send prayers for the homeless, and I am glad that Thelma Smith gave them dignity by not painting their faces, and making them bigger than life.

My Prayer for Those Who are Homeless

Oh God, today I looked out into the hail and the sleet and the thunder,
And I felt safe and warm inside with my animals.
But then I thought about all those who are without homes or shelters.
I thought of all the people in this world who go to bed hungry and cold,
Or without something to help their thirst.
I thought of the little children, who live in rags, dirty, and perhaps without shoes.
And I felt ashamed, God.
You created this world full of people of every color and culture, every language, every political and spiritual or religious belief system. You created all the creatures on this earth, and all the plants, and everything including the tiniest grains of sand.
And it was good. We were all meant to be on this earth and to help it survive, or we would not be here.
But instead, we hate those whose languages we cannot speak, whose cultures and spiritual or religious beliefs are not ours, and we seek ways to overcome every enemy, when in fact, our worst enemies are those in the compass of our hearts and our minds. We want to destroy those whom we believe are against us, and worst still, we create people who are invisible to us. They cry out in the streets, and in the bare spots along the train tracks. They look up with hope, but instead find empty stares, or people who don't even look at them. God, we have done shameful things to our fellow human beings, and to the creatures and the plants, and perhaps even the tiniest grains of sand. As we looked past the invisible ones, God, we looked past you. We go to churches and cathedrals and to our places of worship, and we proclaim loudly that we love you and we praise you, but we look right past you as you sit in the street with an empty cup, or we turn away in disgust at a mother with nothing to feed her child. We perhaps throw a rock at a stray animal, and God, you are in all of us, so we cannot say we love you when we have made you invisible. You created us ALL in your image, and so God, you are all the people who live on this wonderful earth, and you never told us that you loved everyone but the invisible people.
Help us to truly open our eyes, God, and to open our hearts and our minds. Help us to see that every human being, every creature, every plant, and even the tiniest grains of sand are you, God.