THE BLOG
12/04/2012 09:42 am ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Homelessness and the Holidays: A Wake Up Call

This past week a young NYPD officer's random act of kindness toward a man experiencing homelessness captivated national media headlines and the hearts of many Americans alike. The 25-year-old Larry DiPrimo was on his post in Times Square when he came across a homeless man without shoes on a cold November night.

The officer, with no incentive other than acting on the kindness of his heart, went to a nearby shoe store, purchased the man a $100 pair of boots and proceeded to fit the shoes on the man. The store clerk, Jose Cano, who applied an employee discount for Officer DiPrimo, bringing the total to a little over $75, was stunned by the kind act. "Most of us are New Yorkers and we just kind of pass by that kind of thing. Especially in this neighborhood," stated Cano in a recent New York Times piece covering the story. An image of the officer fitting the man experiencing homelessness became a viral sensation within hours of being posted, having achieved over 600,000 likes and 200,000 shares on NYPD's Facebook page to date.

This officer's actions have put the spotlight on a population of individuals who are most often times ignored in these exact circumstances. The harsh reality is that persons experiencing homelessness have become an invisible backdrop to so many major metropolitans across the country. And more often than not, there wouldn't be enough helping hands for this man. Though the response to Officer DiPrimo's act has been overwhelmingly one of praise and gratitude from the media, as well as our nation and organizations that serve those experiencing homelessness, I believe this raises an issue of even greater magnitude: How can we look beyond this viral sensation and lend a helping hand ourselves?

As we grow closer to the heart of the holiday season, hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not millions, will be taking action to support those in the community who are less fortunate. It is a time of the year to offer a helping hand, and remember there are individuals who face a reality far worse than many of us. I believe we have a unique opportunity this year, with the viral reach of this act of kindness by Officer DiPrimo, to come together as a nation and build upon the momentum of this Man's actions.

Officer DiPrimo did not perform this act of kindness with any motivation other than willingness to help a person. It is the season to remember this very notion -- and rather than focusing on the publicity that has enveloped this entire situation, I believe it can be simplified quite easily. If you see an individual in need, there is not a better time than now to lend a helping hand. This season of giving is a time to focus on all of our abilities to perform acts of kindness. This is not about a police officer "helping the homeless." It's a human being helping a fellow human being, and we shouldn't forget that.

There has been criticism, perhaps deservedly so, given the historical perspective of officers' treatment of the homeless in NYC and beyond. However, it being a season of togetherness, love and giving, we should focus our energies on the positives of ways we can contribute to the greater good of this nation. We have the power to break the stigma that is homelessness, and remember these are individuals, not a label, nor an identity.

Wishing everyone a holiday filled with moments of kindness and humanity to all.