03/12/2014 12:30 pm ET Updated May 12, 2014

5 Things the Homeless Have Taught Me

When you live in a big city like Chicago, it can become easy to ignore the homeless. Like any big city we have our homeless, and we see them on the way to get our morning cup of coffee or at the gas station or in front of our favorite store. It becomes a normal part of the scenery. Most don't give it a second thought.

For me, every time I see them my mind immediately goes to wondering what their story is. Did they once have a job, a home or a family? Did illness or addiction bring them to this? How sad, I always think to myself, that they may have once had everything I have right now and they lost it for whatever reason. It makes me count my blessings and realize how much I have. I give them a dollar and hope that somehow it can make a difference in their lives, but deep down I know the reality is that it really won't make a difference in the long run, just temporarily. They are so thankful and their eyes light up with appreciation. One man thanked me for not ignoring him, another said that he will make it through the day because of me. One that impacted me in particular cried after I gave him money, and said he just became homeless recently. As he cried he said "Bless You."

The homeless have impacted me in ways they will never know. This is what I have learned from them over the years:

The fact that they are still standing and alive with very little or no support shows me how resilient the human spirit is. Through the illnesses, the lack of food, the brutal weather and the abuse they undoubtedly endure, they still manage to be.

Anyone Can Become Homeless
Nobody is immune from tragedy, job loss, illness and lack of support from family and friends. Truth be told, it doesn't take a whole lot to be in their shoes. Be thankful for everyday that you are not.

Illness Can Take Your Life Away
Many homeless have debilitating physical and mental health conditions, and without support when you have these conditions it is very easy to end up on the street. I don't think most of us realize how easy it is to lose everything from a serious illness; it literally can be a heart beat away.

Acknowledgement Helps
You have no idea how far a simple hello can go in making someone feel good. It is lonely to be homeless, and just taking a few seconds to ask how someone's day is going, or to smile can make their day. Giving them the change from your coffee purchase means so much. Society has forgotten these people; you can do many things on an individual level to make them feel human again.

There Is So Much More We Can Do to Help Them -- We Are All in This Together
There are very few public facilities where someone with mental illness can get treatment and therapy. Public mental health care is severely lacking in this country. If we want to be serious about solving this problem, we need to address this issue because many of these homeless can have a life and be independent if only they could get treatment and medication for their illness. The uncared for mentally ill may either end up homeless or in jail, and that is not right; they need help and treatment.

And finally, more active and in-depth job training and other programs for those who have been in jail or those who haven't worked in a long time from illness are needed and there should be incentives for businesses that hire them. We have to help them fit back into society.