Yesterday afternoon while talking with a gentleman I know the subject of freedom of choice entered the conversation. At one point he excused himself to go to the bathroom and I picked up a book that had been laying on the couch next to me. It turned out to be Nicholas Sparks’ "The Notebook."
I’ve never read the book, and although it as been turned into a motion picture, I’ve never seen that either. So, while waiting for this gentleman to return from the bathroom I began flipping through the pages at just reading at random. Almost at once I came across one sentence whose reality stuck out in my mind straightaway:
"A person can get used to anything, if given enough time."
That sentence seemed to cry out against the idea of freedom of choice – especially when I began thinking about all of the homeless all across this nation who must face sleeping out of doors even in the most inhospitable weather simply because there are not enough shelters and beds to accommodate them all.
I began thinking about many of the homeless within my own community for whom homelessness has become the "norm." A fair number of them have been homeless long enough to be considered "chronically homeless." And, while being homeless wasn’t their first choice in life, because they have been homeless for so long, they’ve become accustomed to life on the streets.
From the conversations that I’ve had with many of them, when they first became homeless they struggled to find a way back into the mainstream of the community. That was their "freedom of choice." But over time, as opportunity after opportunity to do so was denied to them due to the prejudice toward the homeless, the "will" to raise their standard of living was rendered impotent. Finally, they consigned themselves to never having a chance at getting "a place of their own" because they began to believe that no one would give them the chance. So they eventually gave up trying.
To be sure, there are indeed those homeless for whom homelessness IS the lifestyle of choice – whether directly or indirectly. Yet, the majority of homeless would rather not be homeless. They would rather have a place they could call home. However, since the rest of society seems indifferent toward genuinely providing a method for them to transition back into the community, many of those who have had lengthy experiences with homelessness have given up on any actual hope of becoming non-homeless ever again. Subsequently, their attempts to regain a foothold within the community is half hearted at best. After all, why run the race if you know you don’t believe you have a fair chance of even crossing the finish line?
In this nation of ours – which we like to refer to as the "land of opportunity" – isn’t it quite a bit of hypocrisy that we continue to deny a person opportunities based on their social and economic status?
It makes me wonder how many of America’s homeless might not have become chronically homeless had we been more willing to see them as people, who like ourselves, had dreams of making their lives better?
Had we been less prejudicial, more accepting and genuinely willing to extend a helping hand to those who looked to us for compassion and mercy, we might have less persons who have had their freedom of choice taken away from them in lieu of being forced to accept being homeless.