Yesterday in my post, I mentioned having seen a homeless gentleman at a fast food restaurant. He was eating his "meal" – an order of fries and a glass of water.

Off and on throughout today, my thoughts kept going back to this gentleman. I wondered about where he had slept last night. Was it at the local shelter? Was it in hiding under some bush or behind a building or a darkened doorway? Was he able to find something to eat this morning? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions – or to any of the numerous other questions I had regarding him today.  

The one thing that kept replaying itself in my mind was that this gentleman was sitting absolute alone. The table that he had chosen to sit at was as far removed from the rest of the customers as he could get. I don’t believe that he was being anti-social. I do believe, however, that he was trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.

He had chosen to isolate himself from everyone else. But then again, I don’t truly believe that this act of self-isolation was an actual "choice." I think that because of the way society in general views the homeless, this gentleman was actually left with no other course of action.

This isolating oneself from the rest of society is a recurring theme among the majority of our homeless. The community doesn’t really want them around. The homeless are shunned. They are treated like outcasts. They have obscenities yelled at them by other members of the community. They are targets for harassment by local law enforcement – even if they aren’t doing anything more than just sitting in one place "for too long." In some instances, homeless persons have had acts of violence done to them simply because they are homeless.

This constant sense of having animus thrown in your direction finally takes its toll on one’s self-esteem. As a result, the homeless find themselves living on the fringes of society. However, human companionship is so inviolable a human need that the homeless remain as close to the community as possible, yet without ever feeling like they belong. They have been made into reluctant spectators who – because of our prejudices toward them – are not allowed to become true participants.

Therein lays the problem. We demand that the homeless become responsible for themselves. We accuse them of being lazy and unwilling to do something to raise their standard of living. We tell them to go out and get a job. We expect of them to become productive members of the community. Yet, we seem all too eager to deny them the opportunity to do so.

If we expect the homeless to find employment, then we need to be willing to hire them when they come to our place of business. If we expect them to find a place to live, then we must be willing to rent to them. If we expect them to become contributing members of society, then we must allow them the chance to contribute.

If we expect the homeless to change their lives for the better, then we too, must change. We must put aside our petty prejudices. We must set aside our contemptuous attitudes toward them. We must mature morally.

Several evenings ago I was watching C-SPAN. One of our nation’s elected leaders was chiding one of the countries in the Middle East for violating human rights. As I listened to these condemnations, one word kept popping into my mind: hypocrisy.

As a nation we want other countries to exercise human rights. Yet, in city after city across this nation, there are millions of people who call the streets of our communities "home." They live in abject poverty. We preclude them from attaining the "American Dream." We chase them away from one place to another, and then we chase them away again. We keep them enslaved in an existence of total want. Is it any wonder that so many of the world’s other nations view us with suspicion and contempt?

Before we even begin the attempt to tell other nations how to take care of the "house" we need to make sure that ours in clean.

The Declaration of Independence contains what may be one of the world’s best known phrases,

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

However, in the original version of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had written these words:

"We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I like that Thomas Jefferson viewed "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" as something "sacred and undeniable." I also like that he saw these rights as "unalienable" and "inalienable."

Both words share the same definition:

"Incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another."

When we treat our nation’s homeless with prejudice, we are robbing them of their "unalienable" rights. When we treat the homeless with disdain, we profane the very rights we demand for ourselves. When we create barriers between ourselves and those who need us to reach out a helping hand, we desecrate the foundation of what we claim to believe.

Saddest of all is when, through our attitude toward the homeless, we force them into isolation and segregation; we betray the entire premise of being the United States of America.

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