Neighboring The Neighborless

Home Again And Humbled

My name is Kelley and this is my story of how I try to make a difference by being a neighbor to the neighborless - the homeless people in our city.

Yesterday was COLD.  And WET.  And, oh my gosh, was it WINDY.  And more than 6,000 people here in Chicago had nowhere to go in order to get out of the weather.  I can't lie... I hate these days.  I wanted nothing more than to stay in my jammies, curl up under a blanket, and watch a few movies while sipping coffee.  But I didn't because I know there are people out there with nowhere to go, nothing to eat, and no way to keep warm.  So, once again, I packed up my pink bag and off I went.

I met Carmen as I meet so many people each week:  she was standing on a corner jingling a cup for change so I stopped to see what I could do to help her.  A Chicago native, Carmen has lived most of her life hustling on the streets.  At one point, she became addicted to crystal meth.  She's been clean for four years now - I hope she's proud of that accomplishment.

As we talked, a group of young men walked by.  She quietly held out her cup as usual.  They burst out laughing. "Shyeahright... disgusting!" and kept going.  Carmen turned to me and said "Man, you know what?  Living here on the streets?  this is punishment enough... I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.  But for another human being to treat me that way?  I just don't think I'll ever understand.  I'm not rude... I try to stay clean... I'm not aggressive.  Why they gotta do me like that?  Why?"  I just wanted to cry for her.  But seeing the tears in her own eyes as her lower lip quivered, I told myself, "Kelley, don't you dare cry.  Don't you dare," because to stand there crying in front of people passing by?  For people like Carmen, that's the ultimate humiliation.

I asked her about the possibility of sleeping in a shelter.  She said the same thing so many other people have told me:  most of the shelters are full of violence, theft, and a severe bed bug problem.  I began rummaging in my bag for things that could give her some comfort for the moment:  dry socks, toiletries, and a cup of hot cocoa.  We continued to talk as she sipped the warm drink.  Another group of young guys walked past.  She didn't even bother to hold out her cup.  Then, one of the men doubled back, slipped a Visa gift card in her cup and said, "here, go get yourself something to eat, sweetie."

Carmen is just one of so many people I meet each week.  She didn't ask to be born into a life of drugs, disease and street living.  Could she have gotten out of that lifestyle when she was young?  Sure.  But you know what?  I didn't grow up in her environment.  I have absolutely no right to judge her and the choices she made in her youth that she's paying for now.  None whatsoever.  The only thing I can do is be a decent human being, do what I can to help her stay alive and encourage her to make right choices now.

If you see Carmen or someone like her somewhere in this city, show a little compassion.  You don't have to give money.  You don't have to walk around with a bag full of things like I do.  Just stop a moment and say, "how are you?"  It means the world to someone to know that he or she matters enough for you to simply say hello.



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LPS said:

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Kelley- you amaze me every time. You really should be writing a book of the amazing stories of the people you have met. You have a heart full of compassion and beauty and I find your stories so interesting and inspiring. I also have to find a way to get all the stuff I have for you down to the city :)

ChicagoBlue said:


bless you kelley for this work you do!

Yzjamie said:

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Kelley, that is such awesome work that you do. If I was closer, I'd help you out somehow.

Kelley said:


Hey, thanks! In case you weren't aware, you don't have to live in or even near Chicago to help. You can donate to our cause or I can put you in touch with people closer to you who are doing the same thing I'm doing.

Feel free to email me for more information!

Michelle said:

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How inspirational!! What a wonderful thing you are doing, and hopefully it will inspire others to also help!! You are touching many lives!!

T.R. Slyder said:


Great post! Keep up the great work!

Dawgelene (Dr Dawj) Sangster said:


Wonderful post Kelley! You are so awesome!

Julia said:

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Awesome, Kelley! The pink bag project is such a worthwhile effort. And bringing attention to this problem/your way of helping via this blog is wonderful. You've hit on the key point here: do what you can, the (seemingly) smallest things can mean so much to someone in a position like Carmen's. Homeless people are just like the rest of us--they need love, respect, and to feel as though they are seen by others. Keep up the great job!

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