Breaking Down Stereotypes

Breaking Down Stereotypes


(ster-ee-uh-tahyp) noun

1. a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

The 2013 San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey estimates that there are 7,151 homeless people in San Mateo County on an annual basis.  It also reported that the number of people in cars, RVs or encampments was up 66% from 2011.

Many stereotypes exist regarding our homeless neighbors – who the homeless are, why one might find themselves homeless, and why some remain homeless.  SVdP’s Homeless Help Centers exist to serve this forgotten population.  Through SVdP’s three centers, volunteers help serve our homeless brothers and sisters with over 100,000 meals, 2,800 bus tokens, 6,000 pairs of socks, 9,800 vouchers for clothes and shoes, and 600 sleeping bags, basic survival necessities plus mail and laundry service – all offered with respect, hope and love.

As my children and I learned by watching an episode of Brain Games, it is possible to change the way your brain “see’s” things.  In other words, if you have a general misunderstanding of the circumstances concerning the persistently, unstably housed or were informed incorrectly,  each of us has the ability to see things in a new, more compassionate light.

Cardboard Stories, a short video by Rethink Homelessness  is a powerful testament to breaking down stereotypes.  They “asked their homeless friends to write down a fact about themselves that other people wouldn’t know just by walking past them. Their answers will most likely surprise you.”

Learned behaviors are those that are modified by experience.  It is learned either from interacting with the world or by being taught.

SVdP’s service learning opportunities for students are a great way to demonstrate understanding.  Reflections written by these students perfectly illustrate how serving others is an important avenue to eliminating stereotypes.

“I learned that you can be well-educated and still homeless. I met a man who told me what my name would be in other languages and what it would mean in other cultures. He was so smart and interesting.” Ali Rathman

“I met a homeless lady and her husband who recently lost the house that they had for 15 years. She said she used to cook a lot and really missed it. I am lucky that I go home to my house and a warm meal every day.” Alanna Gatto

“We are all God’s children and He’s calling us to help those less fortunate and help them find better lives.” Linh Ho

Sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold while they walk the path toward a new life.

Recently, “Ken” came by SVdP’s Homeless Help Center to say hi and thank you. It seemed like yesterday that he was a guest, but that day he was not there for services.  Ken had not been by in a while and he came to say thanks for all the support he received from SVdP. He proudly shared that he’s been working for over a year and now has his own place. As a way of giving thanks for his blessings, Ken is now a volunteer at his church.

Let’s help breakdown stereotypes and build up our neighbors in need.  As our namesake, St Vincent de Paul stated, “Lord, help me to make time today to serve you in those who are most in need of encouragement or assistance.”