I’m Offended Too

Posted: June 23, 2007 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Panhandling

Yesterday evening, my other half and I were having dinner (tuna fish sandwiches) and we were reading the last issue of New Times.

The "Street Talk" section asked the question: "What offends you most about San Luis Obispo?"

The first interviewee said that what offended him most were those homeless "…who choose to panhandle instead of getting a legitimate job."

Generally I’m not one who responds to something like that by sending a letter to the editor, but this time I felt compelled to do so.  

In my letter to the editor I said:

"This week’s Street Talk asked what people found offensive about San Luis Obispo.

The first interviewee quoted said he found those "who choose to panhandle instead of getting legitimate jobs" offensive.

So do I.

However, as someone who has experienced homelessness and has had to suffer the indignities of having to "beg for alms" I find it more offensive that in this country – which is the most prosperous nation on the face of the planet – there are people who must panhandle just in order to survive.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are many homeless who are simply lazy, but it is not true of all the homeless. There are those who would love nothing more than to find "gainful" employment.

Before we paint all of the homeless in the same light, perhaps it would be wise for us to educate ourselves as to the various reasons people are homeless."

What I found interesting was that the question was about what most offended a person ABOUT San Luis Obispo. This gentleman’s response was about people who offended him.

After I read his response I wondered if he was also offended by the entire United States – since there are millions of people nationwide who panhandle. Then I took it a step further and wondered if he was offended by the whole world since there are people who beg for alms everywhere on the planet.

Of course, my mind didn’t stop there. I wondered if this man considered himself religious. If he did, was he offended by the Bible? The Bible has numerous references to people who beg for alms.

What I find offensive is that the majority of Americans have no idea why a person is homeless and yet are ready to assume that anyone who panhandles is lazy or is a derelict of some kind. These assumptions serve to do nothing more than create prejudice toward the homeless. And, it’s this prejudice that creates barriers that homeless people everywhere find difficult to overcome.

I’m always the first to admit that many of the homeless are after nothing more than getting drunk or chasing a "high." And, I’m also the first to admit that many of the homeless are lazy and thus homeless by choice. But, then again, there are so many who are homeless as a result of financial problems, medical issues and other circumstances beyond their control.

It seems to me that we need to respond to each homeless person as an individual. We need to recognize that not all homeless persons are derelicts. We need to understand that there are homeless who are desperately trying to become productive members of society. We need to see each one of them on the merits of their own character and needs. We need to stop casting them all in the same light and fooling ourselves into thinking that all homeless people are the same.

Only then we will – as a community – be able to help those who truly wished to be helped.

And only then will those who want to raise their standard of living be allowed to do so.

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