How One Stop Changed My View of Homelessness

How One Stop Changed My View of Homelessness

I’m no stranger to homelessness. During my career in nonprofits, I’ve worked alongside mothers and children escaping domestic violence, LGBTQ youths forced out of their homes and veterans with mental health challenges. They all faced the terrible realities of life without a home.  And on a personal level, I lost a cousin who died alone on the streets in California.

On any given day in Phoenix, thousands of people just like my clients and my cousin live without a roof over their heads. You probably see them around the Valley holding signs on street corners and at freeway stoplights. Do you pause and smile, perhaps sharing loose change and water, or do you look away desperately hoping not to make eye contact?

Awesome Opportunity

As Director of Homelessness at Valley of the Sun United Way, I have the awesome opportunity transform lives in our community every day. I’m always prepared with bus passes and snack packs for those moments at stoplights. While stopped at a freeway intersection, I had a sudden realization that profoundly changed my perspective on giving. I encountered a man who looked like he had a particularly hard night. As I reached for my purse to give him a bus pass, the light turned. An overwhelming feeling of sadness filled my heart—not because I’d failed to help the man, but it dawned on me that his suffering pays my salary.

Making A Difference

The tear-soaked epiphany: my routine of sharing bus passes and snacks was about me feeling good, a simple transaction with another human being. It was a not the answer to ending homelessness. Think of all the drivers in Maricopa County who are waiting at stoplights every minute. What if each of us took a moment to offer eye contact and an earnest smile? What if we all chose to give our spare change to United Way?

You Decide

Rather than supporting a fleeting, feel-good moment at a stoplight, we can take those coins to make permanent change in the lives of hundreds of people by providing housing. Why not choose an action that will make the most impact for everyone in our community? Learn how you can be the one to help us end homelessness in the Valley.

Kim Van Nimwegen is the Director of Homelessness for Valley of the Sun United Way. She is Master of Social Work (MSW) and has lead a career in the nonprofit sector working with youth at public housing projects in Chicago and various domestic violence and housing organizations in Arizona.  Kim is proud to advocate for system level change for people who often can’t advocate for themselves.

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