The Internet has certainly changed the way we view and interact with the world around us. It allows almost instantaneous access to information of all types. It’s to the point that phrases such as "information overload" have become a part of the online culture. All that being said, it makes me wonder why it seems as though folks aren’t actually better informed.
Let me give an example.
Most newspapers are available online. Although they are primarily targeted to readers in their own areas, nonetheless folks from anywhere in the world can log on. In addition, they also allow for readers to leave comments to the articles.
In my case, I track newspapers from all around the nation through news alerts and RSS feeds. I can even request that articles about certain topics be sent directly to my e-mail.
Because of this blog, some of the alerts I’m interested in receiving are those which deal with homelessness. After reading the articles, I also take the time to read whatever comments may have been left.
Want to know what I find peculiar?
When it comes to the majority of comments left in response to articles about homelessness, there is a noticeable absence of "information overload." If anything, there actually seems to be quite a bit of "data deficiency."
Over the last several months as I’ve read articles about city after city putting together "10-year plans to end homelessness," most of the comments have been derogatory and categorically condemn the homeless. Some spew nonsense about all homeless being drunks or drug addicts. Others, that the homeless should just "… get a job like the rest of us." Some of them accuse every homeless person of being lazy and wanting "… a free ride." I’ve even read some comments which unequivocally state that all the homeless "… choose to be homeless."
A number of comments come from folks who don’t think it’s right for their "… tax dollars to be spent on those people." And then there are the inevitable comments from folks who see the solution as simply forcing the homeless "… to go elsewhere."
Admittedly, there are folks who have deliberately chosen to be homeless. However, they are in the minority.
Over the last couple of years, as the nation’s economy has slipped into recession, many folks who worked just as hard as everyone else have found themselves without a home. Job losses due to cutbacks and outsourcing have left millions of folks unemployed. The sub-prime mortgage debacle has caused record numbers of foreclosures. All of this has affected both blue and white collar workers. Hardest hit however, have been single mothers with dependant children.
It’s obvious that the folks leaving comments have some access to the Internet. After all, they are leaving comments online. But how is it that they don’t go one step further and research homelessness? Is it just laziness? Or, do they deliberately choose to remain ignorant of the issues surrounding homelessness?
What makes all of this worse is that so many at local government levels also seem to have a "data deficiency."
Their solution never seems to be one of increasing funding to help the homeless. Rather, they cling to the rationale that expanding or creating services will draw more homeless to their area. It’s a "if you build it, they will come" mentality. This mindset, in itself, is a clear indication of how little local governments actually understand the issue.
But there is something which I find even more peculiar: the deafening silence of those who do care about the plight of our nation’s homeless.
I’ve read many articles about organizations who want to create shelters or transitional housing to help their local homeless. In some cases, these plans have large community support. However, at the city council meetings, when a small number of dissenters voice their objections the local government suddenly pulls the rug out from under the plan.
Where are the voices of those who support the plan then?
When it comes to the issue homelessness, it seems to me that "data deficiency" may have created a societal side effect: "compassion deficiency."