On the Dictionary.com website, the word "homeless" is defined in the following manner:
1. without a home: a homeless child.
2. the homeless, persons who lack permanent housing.
It’s interesting to note that nothing in the definition makes any allusions to a person’s moral character. If anything, the definition describes a socio-economic condition and nothing more. Yet, there are those who are convinced that a person who is homeless is somehow of a less "reputable character" than someone who isn’t homeless. In fact, there are even those who view the homeless as being of a criminal ilk.
Sadly, because of the many stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding homelessness, the homeless often end up getting "a bum rap" (excuse the pun).
However, if homelessness were actually measure of a person’s character (or that they must be "bad" people due to their homelessness), then how does one account for the unsavory behavior of those who aren’t homeless?
Case in point –
In yesterday’s LA Times, I read about Robert Bourseau – one of the former co-owners of the City of Angels Medical Center.
As it turns out, Mr. Bourseau was sentenced to 3 years in prison and ordered to $4.1 million in restitution.
His crime: defrauding Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Did I mention that Mr. Bourseau was paying a "recruiter" to transport homeless people to his hospital – where he provided them with unnecessary medical services and then billed Medicare and Medi-Cal for those services?
Then there was the case of Lydia Kathleen Fitzgerald.
Ms. Fitzgerald was the executive assistant at the Casa Youth Shelter in Los Alamitos.
She, like Mr. Bourseau, found herself heading off to serve a prison sentence. Four years, to be exact.
Her crime: embezzling in excess of $435,000 from the youth shelter and – as the LA Times article put it – spending that money "… splurging on an extravagant personal lifestyle."
What I find the most repugnant about Mr. Bourseau and Ms. Fitzgerald is the false personas they were putting forth for all the community to see; passing themselves off as fine upstanding pillars of the community.
Surely, folks must have thought of Mr. Bourseau as some benefactor to the community. After all, he was providing medical services to the homeless, wasn’t he?
And Ms. Fitzgerald?
She probably was viewed as some sort of selfless angel of mercy; reaching out to the poor bedraggled unfortunates in the community.
The reality is this: both Mr. Bourseau and Ms. Fitzgerald were nothing more than common criminals – despite the fact that neither one of them was homeless. And what makes their actions all the more despicable is that they used and took advantage of those who were.
All of this goes to prove the old adage: "You can’t judge a book by its cover."
When it comes to the homeless in our communities, too often we shy away from them because of their appearance. Seldom do we take the time to actually engage in a meaningful dialogue with them. Consequently, we never see the person behind the disheveled exterior.
Call me naïve. But I’m willing to wager that if more of us took the time to "get to know" some of the homeless in our communities we’d discover someone who we have more in common with than we thought – because in all truth, the only actual difference between ourselves and the homeless is where we lay our heads to sleep at night.
Having a place to call home doesn’t make anyone better than those without one. Nor does being homeless mean that a person is of less value than the rest of us.
Hopefully, one day soon, we will come to recognize that homelessness is about folks who don’t have a home and not an indicator of their personal character.
Then perhaps, we’ll be more readily willing to offer a helping hand.