Posted: September 21, 2007 in Compassion, Homelessness, Morality

According to the dictionary, accountability is being responsible or answerable for someone or something. But it’s something that many don’t want to be.

There are homeless, who have chosen to be homeless to avoid being responsible for themselves or anything they do. Some have become homeless because they refuse to be held accountable for their actions. And, there are those who are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control.  

Whatever the case may be, when it comes to homelessness, there is another type of accountability that comes into play: the accountability that we, as a society, have in regards to how we treat the homeless.

While it’s important for us to expect the homeless to be responsible enough to try making a better life for themselves, it is equally important that we be responsible enough help those homeless who truly want to become a part of the community once again. It is up to us to insure that they have every opportunity possible at upward mobility.

The whys and wherefores behind a person’s homelessness are only important insomuch as they help that person get off of the streets. That is to say, if a person has a drug or alcohol problem, for example, then guiding them towards becoming clean and sober is the first step in helping them become free of homelessness.

Unfortunately, we think that the entire burden of ending homelessness is exclusively on the shoulders of the homeless. And, because we have that point of view, we seldom create effective avenues that would allow the homeless to rise up out of their situations. Instead, we waste our efforts on ridiculing, belittling, and shunning the homeless. We’ve become so good at finger pointing that we forget that beneath the disheveled appearance is a person.

We point a finger at the homeless and place the blame for their lives on them without knowing the reasons behind that person’s particular situation. We point a finger at the homeless and call them names. We point a finger at the homeless and scorn them. We point a finger at the homeless and tell them that they need to get a job. We point a finger at the homeless and tell them that we don’t want them around, that they need to find another place to be. On and on…

The problem is that every time we point an accusing finger what we have is a hand that is almost fully clenched into a fist – and that doesn’t solve the problem.

The only way to help the homeless help themselves is for us to unclench that fist and make it an open hand; one that reaches out in compassion, understanding and willing to help someone who has fallen to rise back to their feet.

Accountability is a two way street.

The homeless should be held accountable for trying to make something of their lives. But, we in turn are morally accountable to do what we can to help.


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