Help Or Hinderance

Posted: December 13, 2007 in Acceptance, Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Stereotypes

Over the last few days, especially since it’s the Christmas season, my mind has been focused on the "spirit of giving." In order for there to be a "giver" there has to be someone who receives – that’s just the way it works. It’s a pretty good system if you think about it.

What’s given doesn’t always have to be in the realm of materialism. It can be a nod of acknowledgment, a quick hello or even something as simple as a smile.  

It seems to me a crime that although we have the capacity for generosity, we often times do not live up to that full potential, particularly when we see a person or persons who we think of as being beneath our notice – the homeless for example.

Because of the misconceptions that surround homelessness we have this tendency to overlook those among the homeless who could genuinely benefit from our help. What occurs is that we notice the "troublemakers" among the homeless and then, for some reason, our brains go into the "they’re all the same" mode. The net result is that the next homeless person we happen to come across will automatically be classified as one of "those people."

Although there are those homeless who are indeed "troublemakers" and/or just plain lazy there are probably more homeless who are folk like you and me who have found themselves falling on hard times.

As the economy continues to slip closer toward a recession, there are going to be more and more people, from every walk of life and age group who are going to find themselves without a place to call home. And, as more people become homeless it will become imperative that we find some effective way of helping each of them transition back into the main stream of society. But, the thought that continues to go through my mind is why we continue to wait. Why haven’t we already put into place those support systems needed to help those who are currently homeless?

It’s easy to point at the various homeless shelters, day centers, social services, etcetera and say that we’re already doing something to help. But are we truly helping? Have we set up a support system that helps, or have we set up a system that hinders?

The truth is that most of the organizations that provide homeless support services all provide similar types of services: food, clothing and – if or when there is available space – shelter. There is very little by way of helping the homeless actually re-acquire a foot hold in the community. Yet, many of the homeless would dearly love to once again become a part of "society."

This holiday season, with a number of local retailers adding additional – if temporary – positions to their payroll, there were a number of homeless who were able to find employment and were happy to being working. To be sure, these persons were well aware that the positions were going to be temporary but they were excited to have the opportunity to be doing something productive. And although it’s a long shot and they are aware of it, I’m sure more than a few of them are secretly hoping that it leads to something more permanent – and with it – the potential for getting off of the streets.

It almost seems cruel that once this season is over and done with, those homeless who are so excited to be working right now, will find themselves once again without a job. Once again, their self-esteem will take a beating. Once again, they will find themselves hoping to find work, and struggling with feelings of hopelessness as they are turned down for a job.

It makes me wonder just how long a person can continue to have their human dignity denied them by their community simply because they find themselves homeless, and how long they can continue to have their self-esteem beaten and bruised before the finally give up and become perpetually homeless.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a gentleman who said that he has to remind himself each day that there are two types of persons who don’t have a place to call home: those who are homeless and those who are bums.

He’s right.

If we could all recognize that reality, perhaps we could figure out a way to help the homeless and not hinder them as a result of our own stereotypical prejudices.

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