Feeling the pavement under my feet, the smell of the street permeated my clothes and entire being. The other homeless people around me sat huddled under tattered blankets, stocking caps, and worn coats all trying to embrace a sense of warmth. Overhead, the familiar rumble of the Skytrain comforted my heart and drowned out the internal screams I felt rising to the surface.
Every time someone who was nicely dressed walked past, I felt their hate and distain. Either they stared at me like I was a parasite that could leach onto their nice outfits and contaminate their day, or they would turn their head away and pretend I did not exist. I do not know what was worst. Maybe it was their own shame, but it felt like mine.
Then as families walked past me, the parents would pull their children in closer, hushing their questions in loud tones by telling them that, “Yes, she is homeless.” As young ladies walked past they would clutch their purses with two hands, while teenage boys would make obscene gestures teasing me about the sexual realities that I have endured. For some reason, society promotes the message that these behaviors are okay.
On a daily basis, I would turn my head so no one could see the tears falling down my face and the ways that they would land on my cheeks.
I wanted to be seen, but not as someone to use or exploit. I wanted to be treated like a human rather than a contagious disease requiring one to be sanitized after engaging with me. I wanted to be recognized for my strength and courage to keep on waking up each frosty day. I wanted to experience hope—a dreamy concept that I had heard people talked about, yet a reality that seemed so far away.
It was hard enough to just survive.
In between being sold for sex, I found myself eating in soup kitchens and picking up shoes from the clothing closet at the youth shelter when mine were stolen. Simply yearning for a smile and a spark of compassion, I was exhausted and lonely.
Since the minuets slowly turned into hours forming days that blurred into long weeks, I do not remember the exact day it happened, but my heart fondly remembers one special interaction. An interaction permeated with kindness.
It was chilly, the kind of cold that I could feel in my bones. I could not stay warm. Breathing created clouds of frost around my head. My ears hurt and my nose formed crusted paths on my face.
To protect myself from the rude comments and swirling busyness of others around me, I stared at the pavement—thinking about rare moments of my past when warmth and safety were felt.
Coming back to the reality of the present moment, I slowly heard a voice speaking to me with tenderness, “Would you like some hot chocolate?” Looking up, I nodded my head yes as my eyes began to focus on this woman whose blue eyes shined at me with authentic kindness. Wearing a red vest and a beverage backpack that read “The Salvation Army,” she poured me a cup of hot chocolate and put some frothy whipped cream on top. After she handed me the steaming cup of hot chocolate (which remains one of my favorite beverages to this day) she placed her hand on my shoulder and continued to talk to me with such kindness.
I do not remember the specifics of our conversation, but I will never forget the kindness of her voice and the authentic compassion she showed me. In her eyes, I was human.
As I felt hope flicker within, this woman taught me that within each experience of kindness lies an opportunity for the development of hope.
By: Jessa Dillow Crisp