It's bad because I really can't tell who is hungry, cold, alone, and who is an old artist at the market who chooses to look a little unkempt. Some of the poorest people try really hard to look presentable, especially the newly poor. My heart goes out to those especially, because they don't have the street skills that the "old poor" have. They're likely to be colder, hungrier, lonelier, have their stuff stolen more, miss out on free meals and services, and still be reeling from their sudden shift in circumstances that landed them on the street.
It's good, though, because I think it helps us all recognize that we're not all that different. The artist in the booth next to me didn't sell anything yesterday -- does that mean he'll go hungry tonight? It very well could. The guy who slept on the other side of the fence from me could have had a home last month, and might still have a bank account, a retirement fund, a photo album of his trip to Europe. We don't get to know.
Much like the outcry about Syrian refugees, all we get to know is that most people are decent. Most of us are hurting. Most of us long for something we don't have, whether it's a warm bed or a trip across the country to see grandchildren or to escape bombs and torture and watching our children die. The longing is the same. We have large and small opportunities with the new poor, both local and international, to empathize with the longing, to encourage one another to connect with people no matter what their circumstances.
I saw an ultra-conservative response to a friend's post about the US taking in refugees. He said, "If I gave you 1000 m&ms and told you that four of them were probably poison, would you eat them anyway?" Oh my gosh, how self-involved can we be? Refugees aren't m&ms! They're people! They're people who are dying! A half percent of a chance that someone might get hurt doesn't justify leaving thousands of people to die!
My dad used to say that you have about the same chance of winning a million dollars if you buy a lottery ticket and if you don't. Accepting refugees doesn't increase or decrease the risk of terrorist attacks at all. Plenty of American extremists are already killing Americans. We don't have to single out the refugees. Maybe some extremists are hiding among the refugees, sure, but more of them are hiding among us already.
The answer isn't to insulate ourselves, to pursue safety at all costs, to protect our stuff, to buy a gun. The answer is to reach out, to connect with one another, to take every refugee we can, to share a cup of coffee with anyone, whether they be a neighbor or a stranger on the street. We are all people, and we desperately need to acknowledge that we're all hurting, scared, lonely, and hoping for someone to care.