Posted: March 31, 2007 in Discrimination, Homelessness, Morality, Veterans

This morning, on my way to catch a bus, I ran into a friend of mine: Eagle Dancer, a Native American who also happens to be homeless. He looked just a tad more tired than usual. He sounded as though he was fighting a cold and I did notice that his nose was runny.

We did a bit of chit chatting like most folks do. But then something he said made me perk up my ears and really listen to what he had to say about something that had happened last night.  

He told me that he had tried to check into a motel, but that the desk clerk had told him: "We don’t want YOUR kind here."

The motel in question is called: The Coachman. It’s not upscale. It’s one of those "mom and pop" run motels. Sort of run down, with rooms that have seen better days.

In this town, motel rooms don’t come cheap, especially on the weekends. Even the mom and pop variety are on the high side, compared with some motels further inland. But this motel in particular has rates that even a homeless person can afford every so often, plus it’s within walking distance of the downtown area. And downtown is where all the homeless catch connecting buses to somewhere or other.

When Eagle Dancer told me what the desk clerk had said to him, my mind went into gear and I wondered what "your kind" really meant. Did he mean no Native Americans? Or, perhaps he was talking about men with longer hair.

But come on, let’s face it – Eagle Dancer, like most of the homeless everywhere, is forced to carry all of his worldly possessions with him everywhere he goes. He has a rather large backpack plus, whatever doesn’t fit in his pack, gets carried in a large trash bag. He is easily identifiable as a homeless person.

In my mind, the only "type" of person the desk clerk could have meant was a homeless person.

This bothers me, because these types of businesses have a tendency to hide behind their little "We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To Anyone" signs. And when that refusal is based on a persons’ social status – that to my mind is discrimination.

I could understand the desk clerk refusing Eagle Dancer service if he were drunk or high on drugs. But the truth is that I’ve never known Eagle Dancer to drink or use drugs. I could also understand the desk clerks refusal to rent a room to my friend if he had been obnoxious or belligerent. But Eagle Dancer is actually a pretty jolly fellow.

Oh, before I forget: Eagle Dancer has a full time job. So that means he’s a taxpayer. But like many homeless who have full time jobs, his wage is just barely above minimum wage. Certainly not enough to be upwardly mobile.

Oh yes… he is also a veteran; one of approximately 500,000 veterans who are homeless each year; one of over 260,000 who are forced to sleep outside nightly because of the lack of beds at homeless shelters.

Considering that he is fighting some kind of cold, doesn’t it seem reasonable that he might want a warm place to sleep in for the night? Considering that the money that he was going to use to pay for the room was money that he earned, shouldn’t he have been allowed to stay?

Let’s say that the shoe had been on the other foot and Eagle Dancer had been the desk clerk, and the desk clerk was a potential motel guest – I’m sure that had Eagle Dancer refused him service simply because the "guest" spoke with a distinctly Pakistani or Hindi accent, the "guest" would have caused a great ruckus, claiming racial profiling.

On the other hand – Eagle Dancer has a big heart. I know him well enough to know that he would never behave in that fashion. Perhaps he’s learned compassion because he’s had a first hand experience at being homeless – a lifestyle that no one should ever have to live.

Eagle Dancer, my brother – may the wind always be strong beneath your wings…

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