By Jill V. Mangino
Last Fall I joined 500 people at a special screening of Conversations with God in New York City, not knowing that the movie I was about to see would forever change how I view the homeless. Conversations with God depicts the true life story of New York Times Best-Selling author Neale Donald Walsch. The film portrays Neale’s soulful and emotional journey into his “Dark Night of the Soul” as a homeless man and reveals the illuminating moment that called him to become a modern-day spiritual messenger.
Neale found himself homeless, at 49 years old, after surviving a car accident in which he broke his neck. He was separated and divorced from his wife and supporting his children as best he could. Out of work and forced to wear a Philadelphia collar neck brace he was unemployable and homeless.
Neale’s plight, as depicted so poignantly in the film, uncovers the stark reality of the homeless situation in this country. It sheds light on the circumstances that lead many of society’s outcasts to find themselves without shelter and often without hope. I’m sure Neale never envisioned eating out of a garbage bin–one of the more uncomfortable and compelling scenes in the film. However, it can unknowingly happen to any of us.
As many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year (1% of the entire US population or 10% of its poor), and about 842,000 people in any given week.
While there is on-going legislation and initiates to address the homeless situation, many critics of social policy assert that a failure to live responsibly and lack of determination are what keep people homeless. However, such thinking is largely accredited with fueling a stigmatization of homelessness. It is not uncommon for Americans to think of the homeless as lazy, apathetic, irresponsible or worthless. Such people typically believe it is by choice that people are homeless. Many Americans complain about the presence of homeless people and feel that their requests for “hand outs” are unjustified. Likewise, many homeless feel they are ignored, despised or even hated.
Neale had one “angel” in the film a woman named Sunny who helped him get “cleaned up” for a job interview. If she had not seen his potential or had a biased view towards his homeless situation, he may have never been able to have picked himself up. Just one person, made such a huge difference and changed the course of his life forever.
While Conversations with God immerses you in the reality of homelessness, Neale’s story offers hope for those who find themselves down-and-out literally and spiritually. As Neale’s life unfolded on the big screen, it revealed a courageous man who rose like the phoenix from the ashes to touch all of our lives. And one thing is certain this movie will forever change the way you view the homeless.
Conversations with God is now available on DVD by Fox Home Entertainment. For more information about the film please visit: www.cwgthemovie.com
Jill V. Mangino is a freelance publicist and writer based in New Jersey. For more information please visit: www.circle3media.com
Walsch was asked what he learned from being homeless. “Judge not and neither condemn,” he said, then added with a twinkle, “You never know who may become your next New York Times best selling author.” He offers some sound advice for dealing with the homeless that you may encounter:
Don’t judge because we can never know what circumstances led to the person’s situation.
Be generous. Please, don’t ever pass any body on the street. We’ve all got a quarter or a dime or a dollar or a fiver that we can let go of. And you can make somebody’s whole day with fifty cents or a dollar. So try never, ever, ever to pass anybody in need. If you see somebody on the street that has his or her hand out, dig deep and try to be generous.
Look them in the eye and say hello. This simple, dignified human interaction could make their day. So many of them feel as if they have disappeared from society. Sometimes they just need someone to acknowledge their presence.
Get a window into their life, it could be very telling. Spend time, be present and listen to their story, if you feel safe and have the time to reach out and connect.
If you see a homeless person who looks like he or she could use immediate attention, please don’t ignore it. By calling the police/paramedics, you are taking the first step in linking people to much needed services and housing.
For more information on homelessness and how you can help please contact the following organizations:
National Coalition for the Homeless — a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness — a nonpartisan, mission-driven organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States.
About Tony Cecala
Tony is a business strategist. He publishes the Holistic Networker and produces the Wellness Expo. In his spare time he reads about technology and the mind.