Helping the homeless, with humanity

By

Marshall Terrill

ASU professor Neal A. Lester says one of the worst things about becoming homeless can be the loss of one’s humanity.

His long-running outreach program “Spontaneous Service Saturdays” — which, at this point, is perhaps a bit misnamed — aims to address that need, both for volunteers and the people they assist.

“Helping the homeless is a transformative experience because it teaches many of us about what we take for granted: a place to live and sleep, as well as some measure of human kindness,” said Lester, Foundation Professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities.

Every other Saturday, he helps volunteers organize in downtown Phoenix to distribute various items, including clothes, shoes, sandals, backpacks, books and magazines. "Homeless people read," Lester said in an interview.

Among the things that sets the Project Humanities outreach apart, he said, is that organizers ask those they serve which items would be most useful. Also, Lester said, volunteers and homeless people address each other by name.

“Such service reminds everyone that homelessness is a circumstance and not an identity,” he said.

The work began in 2014, when Lester, on a whim, asked students and community supporters to gather and give away clothes and shoes from their closets. He saw an ongoing need and decided to make it a year-round effort.

The outreach takes place from 6:45 to 8:15 a.m. every other Saturday on the sidewalk at S. 12th Avenue between W. Jefferson and W. Madison. The next event takes place Saturday, July 16, and organizers welcome donations and volunteers.

For information, visit the initiative’s website, or call 480-727-7030.