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Mr. Hunt and Our Humanity

Executive Director Liz Clasen-Kelly Smiling With Mr. Hunt In His New Apartment

Mr. Hunt came to us at age 90, homeless for the first time after losing control of his finances. In describing the experience, he remarked, “That was a whole heap of a mess I never intended to get in to.”

Getting to know Mr. Hunt felt like going back in time. When talking with a woman, he would take off his hat and hold it over his heart. He would regale you with stories of being in the Air Force post-World War II and of being a librarian in New York City.

His kindness is matched by his stubbornness. Finding a housing option for him that maintained some level of independence was a must. And, we all rejoiced when he moved out earlier this month to a senior living apartment.

Be sure to read more now on Mr. Hunt’s story!

Mr. Hunt and Our Humanity

By Executive Director Liz Clasen-Kelly

Executive Director Liz Clasen-Kelly Smiling With Mr. Hunt In His New Apartment

I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but Mr. Hunt is one of mine.

He came to us at age 90, homeless for the first time after losing control of his finances. In describing the experience, he remarked, “That was a whole heap of a mess I never intended to get in to.”

Getting to know Mr. Hunt felt like going back in time. When talking with a woman, he would take off his hat and hold it over his heart. He would regale you with stories of being in the Air Force post-World War II and of being a librarian in New York City.

His kindness is matched by his stubbornness. Finding a housing option for him that maintained some level of independence was a must. And, we all rejoiced when he moved out earlier this month to a senior living apartment.

I shudder to think what could have happened to Mr. Hunt had Men’s Shelter of Charlotte not been there to meet him in his crisis, with shelter, food, and housing advocacy.

I also reflect, though, on the gift that Mr. Hunt’s presence provided us.

I met Mr. Hunt shortly after my grandmother’s death. Mr. Hunt’s story-telling and his sense of dignity reminded me of my grandmother, and was a comfort to me as I grieved. Watching other guest’s interact with Mr. Hunt was equally as beautiful, as various men spent time watching out for and talking with “pops.”

No doubt, all of us met each other in our time of need and in our humanity.

And that is what we do every day at Men’s Shelter of Charlotte: We meet each other in our humanity.

Convenience Hurts

I admit, I’ve done it.  I will probably do it again.  I’ve used the phrases “homeless man”, “homeless family”, “chronically homeless”, “the homeless.”  I do it out of convenience, it’s just easier than saying “a man who is experiencing homelessness.”  But being easy doesn’t make it right.  Turning someone into a label out of convenience, or for any reason, is hurtful.  In almost every other aspect of life we are very careful not to use labels because labels are insensitive, labels devalue people, labels hurt.  I don’t want to be defined by my afflictions, much less any one of my many life experiences.  I’m not “Carson, he’s got high blood pressure.”  I’m not “Carson, Wake Forest dropout.”  Homelessness isn’t a disease, it’s an experience; an experience I cannot do justice trying to describe because I’ve never personally experienced being homeless.  Yet, that’s how we too often, sometimes innocently, sometimes maliciously, describe our fellow human beings who are or have experienced homelessness.  “That’s Tony, he’s homeless.”  “That’s Betty, she was homeless.”  “What are we doing to help the homeless?”  “Who is that homeless man?”  A few weeks ago, I asked my staff to lead by example, me first.  I asked them to strive to use fewer labels and, therefore, extend more respect to the men – the fathers, Veterans, sons, mechanics, college graduates – who we serve because at the moment they are experiencing homelessness.  So forgive me if I take a few extra seconds to forego “homeless men” to more appropriately say “men who are experiencing homelessness.”  Words matter.  I don’t want to be labeled and I bet you don’t either.  So let’s stop labeling those in our community who are experiencing homelessness; such labels don’t define who they are, not by a long shot.

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