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Put your feet in their shoes: A call for empathy, love, and action for our homeless neighbors

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

A blog by Nardos Jiffaro

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ more famous parables. The term “Good Samaritan” has become synonymous with someone who shows mercy. I often ask myself what can I do to be like the good Samaritan? ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. It’s a simple command to understand, but a hard one to live. I know I must try to act, and I suspect you also might feel the same way.

Since I joined Mercy Holistic Ministry five months ago, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people who are already homeless or on the verge. Despite being citizens of this great nation, many people end up on the street. I heard firsthand stories of people and what led them down the path of homelessness. Of course, each story is unique, and I have one to share.

It's a tough world out there

I met Edward Douglas (name changed to conceal real identity), a 53-year-old veteran who has been experiencing homelessness since 2016, at the Mercy Holistic Ministry site in downtown Sacramento. Edward is a veteran and father of four who worked in some good positions for companies when he was younger. He confided in me that divorce and a major heart surgery in 2016 left him on the street. Despite applying for Social Security and disability benefits, he has been rejected so many times and that made him frustrated.

“I have tried to enroll myself in different shelters, but most are worse than being on the street because of drugs,” he explains. “Once you are out on the street, you must be a hustler to defend yourself.” He showed me a finger he had lost recently during a fight.

Edward has been coming to the Mercy Holistic Ministry mobile shower site at the 1236 C Street since January 2022. He says the shower service is excellent, hygienic, and convenient. He commended the Ministry for extending its shower services to Sundays as it used to be only given on Saturdays. He also highlights the need for quality clothing donations that fit the weather conditions and needs of people experiencing chronic homelessness.

Homelessness can happen to anybody

Homelessness does not discriminate by race, religion, profession, or sex. I have met people with amazing talents, who are college educated, skilled and veterans of military service. Homeless communities are characterized by unemployment, chronic health conditions, divorce, lack of access to affordable housing, behavioral and mental challenges among others.

Before I left my home country of Ethiopia, I was told of privileges that exist for Americans who were in military services. Today, I am shocked to realize that a good number of veterans are out on the street suffering from homelessness. According to Risk factors for homelessness among US veterans' study, veterans are at a higher risk for homelessness compared to the greater population. In 2010, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) estimated that on any given night there were 76,000 homeless veterans sleeping on American streets. According to American Addiction Centers Resource, California has just over one-third of all homeless veterans. (

What can we do?

When you meet someone living in a street, you feel like you should do something to help, but are not sure of the best way to offer a helping hand. Should you give money? Should you give food? Should you simply offer a conversation? I don’t see any formula here, but what matters is to ‘Act and Act Now with love’ instead of tomorrow. There are many ways to help people experiencing homelessness beyond giving money. You can donate clothes, personal hygiene products, food, and drink, volunteer your time, and support an organization working with the homeless. It is important to be aware of free resources that are available for the homeless in our community and we can keep these handy to share whenever the need arises.

The most important thing to do however would be to invest on strengthening systems to prevent homelessness and work to permanently get-off those who are already on the streets. Prevention requires a bigger perspective to address loopholes across multiple systems including housing, healthcare, education, justice system, employment, and many others. As a nation we need to design solutions that catch people before they fall. That is hard work but that is what we need!

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