While on the bus yesterday morning, I began chatting with a young Mathematics major from Cal Poly University.
I originally struck up the conversation with him because of his t-shirt. It was promoting using bicycles whenever possible as a viable and clean air alternative to driving an automobile. The small silhouetted pictures showed a "backward" progression from a newer model car to an older car to an antique car to a horse drawn carriage and finally a bicycle. But it was the one inch words in white that really caught my attention: "Shift Gears."
Just two simple words but they started a chain of thoughts within my mind that lasted throughout the day and into early evening. I starting thinking that if we are going to have a positive and lasting impact on reducing the numbers of homeless in our nation, more than anything else what we need do as a society is shift gears – at least in the way we think.
Somewhere along the line, as a society, we have persistently (and erroneously) continued to view persons who are homeless are irredeemable; that they haven chosen to live homeless; that they are lazy; that they don’t want to up their standard of living; or that there is something terrible wrong with them socially – or else they wouldn’t be homeless in the first place. Thus we view them as undesirables. This in turn, creates a frame of mind within us which actually limits our ability to see homeless persons as individuals with individual needs.
When we label people based on their economic or social standing within our own communities, as is often done with the homeless, and categorically dismiss them as beneath us and undeserving of our help, we belittle them – but more importantly, we belittle ourselves.
As Americans we like to tell ourselves that, as a nation, we have achieved the highest standard of living. But when we continue to ignore the needs and cries of those of our fellow citizens who are living far below the poverty line, we prove ourselves to be morally and ethically barren.
It seems odd to me that activists will shout at the top of their voice about protecting the human and civil rights of illegal immigrants; saying that we must allow and provide them a chance at a better life, but these same activists forget about American citizens who are living on the streets of our nation’s cities.
How can we expect the nations of the world to view us with respect if we continue to show disdain and disrespect to our very own?
Maybe it’s time we shift gears and begin thinking like Americans again.
When it comes to helping the homeless help themselves, we need to get back to basics. We must remember that it is quite possible that anyone of us may find themselves homeless. And we must therefore ask ourselves this one simple question: "If I were homeless, how would I want to be treated?"