A couple of afternoons ago, I met with two gentlemen regarding a web site they would like to have developed. They seem to feel that I’m the person whom they want to develop the site, and of course, I want the work. So we walked a few blocks over to a small local restaurant to sit and chat.
So far so good, right? Wrong!
During the walk, I noticed a few people who, when they saw us walking, glanced first at these two gentlemen, and then did "sneak" glances at me. You know the kind – out of the corner of the eye types looks.
I must admit it did make me feel a bit self-conscious. San Luis Obispo isn’t a large city. Population here is around 45,000, so it’s not uncommon to recognize the faces of quite a few people. Then of course, once a person is recognized as homeless – or even someone who has been homeless – there is still the stereotypes and stigmas that are brought into play.
At the restaurant, there was one man who most definitely noticed me as I walked toward the table where we were going to sit. I knew that he was trying to place where he had seen me before. Then of course, I wasn’t exactly dressed as prim and proper as most people might think I should be. But, then again, I never did dress that way. I’m a no nonsense type of person and for me that means comfortable trousers – usually jeans of some sort – and a comfortable pullover shirt.
Still, as I said a bit earlier, I did feel somewhat self-conscious – and I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
Despite having experienced homelessness personally, I’m still primarily the same person. I have the same set of moral and ethical values that I had prior to having experienced homelessness. I haven’t lost any of my intelligence. I haven’t really lost any skills or talents that I had before. Some of them may have become sluggish through lack of use, but they’re basically still there. I never stopped reading newspapers or watching the news broadcasts, so I’m pretty much up on what is happening in the world. My political viewpoints are still the same. And, most importantly, I still expect the same from people around me as I did prior to having had the homeless experience.
So, I’ve been wondering what it is that I’ve lost.
Not my self-confidence apparently, because once these two gentlemen and I began talking about the project, I didn’t care what anyone around us might be thinking about me. I was in my element. I was the "Pro from Dover." I was speaking as the professional who I had spent so many years working hard and acquiring both, the knowledge and skills, to become.
Although my self-esteem has taken a beating as a result of having experienced homelessness, it isn’t as though I’m a push over either. I have no problem telling a person what is on my mind. Never have. Never will. I also have no problem voicing my opinion on what I believe is right or wrong.
Still, none of that answers the question: "What is it that I’ve lost as a result of having experienced homelessness?"
Actually, I don’t think I’ve lost anything at all. The ones who have lost something are those who are unable to see past the stereotypes and the misconceptions that surround homelessness. They’ve allowed themselves to become closeted by a distorted idea of why homelessness occurs and who homelessness can afflict.
Consequently, they are unable to recognize the humanity in the person who is walking down the street with their backs bent over under the weight of their backpack. They are unable to discern that there is a person beneath the rumpled exterior of the person who is digging through dumpsters and garbage cans looking for aluminum cans and plastic bottles to put a few bucks in their pockets. They are unable to feel compassion for the homeless person standing on a corner, holding a cardboard sign.
Worse than that, through their inabilities to see past the stereotypes, they are becoming morally numb to the ability to behave like the kinds of persons they like to think of themselves as being.