Charity begins at Home, unless you are Homeless

Yesterday I had a truly rewarding experience: for my birthday, I took the Romulus team to deliver food and converse with some of the homeless people who populate the immediate vicinity of our office. These are people whom we pass every day, but – I can speak for myself – for all practical purposes, they don’t exist for us. I walk past them and subconsciously ignore them as a necessary evil of “doing business.” How terrible!  Thus, my goal was to make the homeless around us less invisible – to our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts – by having dinner with them.

We packed about 15 chicken schwarma wraps from Falafel King next door, split into 2 groups, and just started walking. Suddenly, when we were looking for the less fortunate, they were in front of us. They were happy to have the food, but equally curious about who we were and why we came. These conversations were enlightening and energizing for us all:

*An amputee who was homeless because there isn’t enough inventory of subsidized housing for disabled people.

*A man who felt Washington DC was to blamed for the challenges faced by the less fortunate; yet, he could never imagine living anywhere but the US.

*A full-time working mother who cannot survive on minimum wage and thus lives out on Boston Commons (while her children have gone into foster care). She was intent on showing us that she had only been homeless for a year, and that she would soon find a way to stand on her own feet again

*A sidewalk artist (“Sidewalk Dennis”) who became homeless after his mother passed away. He draws sidewalk art near the Park Street T stop. I’ve passed his art (and thus him) many times – but he was always “invisible.” His goal in life was to one day “have a key.” He apparently even created a GoFundMe to help him get off the streets before the winter set in.

These people are all human beings, the same as us, and that commonality could be felt in our authentic conversations. The system in place to help them is far from perfect (for example, homeless shelters in the area apparently suffer from rampant theft, something I would never have guessed). It is important for us to maintain this perspective.

Below are excerpts from what 2 of our interns thought of the experience. I look forward to continuing our charity efforts, and our conversations, on a more regular basis.

“Working in venture capital, a lot of our interactions are with technologists. Around our office are people in need that often go unnoticed. Getting caught up in a full time job and ignoring those around is easier than one would think. Going to school in NYC has exposed me to the many homeless people that are in need. Unaffordable housing, loss of a loved one, marital issues, mental illness, as well as unforeseen circumstances can end up displacing people…Nobody wants to be homeless. It’s on all of us to help in whatever capacity we can.” – Natalia Dorogi

“Homelessness can affect anyone. I tried to gauge if there was a particular commonality among the people we shared dinner with yesterday but I couldn’t find one…There’s a wide variety of factors that led to people becoming homeless and many ways in which homeless individuals spend their days…It was inspiring to hear from those who maintain full-time jobs while homeless and from others who find joy in creating sidewalk art for those walking through Boston parks.” – Nathan Wu