Most people wouldn’t jump at the idea of living on the streets for three days. However, when Judith Knotts was given the opportunity in 2003, she took on the challenge without hesitation.
Following that experience, Knotts made it her mission to tell the stories of those who are voiceless in the homeless community, and 31 of those stories were printed in the Austin American Statesman newspaper. She tells these stories and many more in her newest book, You Are My Brother. The thought-provoking book highlights the importance of having an appreciation for others less fortunate and giving a face to the faceless in our communities.
What inspired you to be an advocate for homeless people?
Not knowing why, I joined Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes on a 72-hour street retreat, the first one in Austin. My mortgage lender was going and told me about it. I scoffed—- and then immediately jumped on board. From the first, I was hooked. [The homeless] had so little, I had so much. They were gracious and kind to me. How could I not respond and share their stories?
What is the most important lesson you have learned from homeless people?
It is so hard to narrow the lessons that I have learned down to a single lesson, but maybe it is this: Homeless people are like us in so many ways. Some are serious, some are funny. Some are givers and some are takers, some are a joy to be around and some are grumpy. Like us, they all want to believe that they are loved.
How can others help the homeless community?
Acknowledge that the problem exists and understand the complexity in finding solutions. Each homeless person, like us, is an individual and needs to be treated as such. No one solution fits all. For starters, read about the issues. See film clips. Talk to those in the know, especially a homeless person or two. At all times, show respect for those you see or meet who are homeless. This is the starting point.
What is the biggest misconception about homelessness?
That they are all homeless for the same reasons… laziness, abuse of drugs or alcohol, or mental illness. It’s simply not true.
What is something you wish others knew about homeless people?
Most of them want to have a home where they can feel safe and loved. The leap from being homeless, even for a short time, to living in an apartment or community is enormous. They need help adjusting to a new way of life with special counselors, rehabilitation programs, job training, health monitoring, and a circle of friends to cheer them on.
How has learning about homelessness changed your life?
I don’t take my life for granted. I appreciate the “little things” — my own bed, a lock on my door, a bathroom, a shower, a washer and dryer to launder my clothes, a wallet with money inside, work, a circle of friends, and a family that loves me.
What are you most excited about for your book?
To get the message out that homeless people are much like us in many ways. We have an obligation to help them, and our lives will be enriched by doing so.
What should someone do when they see a homeless person on the street?
Let them see you see them. Homeless people are so often dissed. If you are in a car, wave to them, acknowledging that you see them. Smile! If you are near them, say, “Hello. Have a good day.” Before any solutions are sought to help homeless people, they first have to be seen.
Cullen Parker is an Agricultural Communications and Journalism student at Texas A&M University. Parker is an agricultural enthusiast, and you can often find him outdoors or playing a concert with his band in Austin or College Station.