Kicking The Habit

Posted: March 9, 2008 in Acceptance, Children, Family, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Stereotypes

With the time change and all, I knew that I would end up losing an hour of sleep. So, last night I had decided to get to bed a bit earlier than I normally would have. Things didn’t go exactly as planned. I actually ended up going to sleep a couple of hours later than I should have.

This morning when the alarm sounded, I hit the off button, rolled over and decided to "rest" my eyes for a few extra minutes. An hour and forty or so minutes later I realized that I had overslept. But, then I reasoned to myself that I hadn’t actually overslept – not by much anyway. The time change had deprived me of an hour of sleep, so I had only overslept by about 40 minutes.  

After finally waking up and getting dressed, I headed out to grab a large cup of coffee. I normally would have had a cup of hot chocolate, but I thought to myself, "What the heck."

I had a packet of Equal and three creamers. As I added each of the creamers to my cup, I stacked them one inside of the other like someone would stack glasses. After that I added the Equal, stirred everything together and put the lid back on my cup.

As I started to put the empty Equal packet and empty creamers into the small receptacle that was to one side, I noticed that there were other empty sugar packets, empty creamers and stir sticks already in it. Pretty much what you’d expect. After tossing mine in, it dawned on me that my creamer containers were the only ones that were stacked inside of one another.

As far back as I can remember I’ve always stacked my empty creamers inside one another. I’ve seen other people do the same thing. So I started wondering why no one who had bought coffee at the same place I had had done that. Then I started wondering if the reason I do that is because I have some kind of neatness fetish. But, I couldn’t come to any real conclusion except that I do it out of habit.

And, that started another chain of thoughts in my mind.

I wonder if one of the reasons we often times ignore helping the homeless is out of habit?

I know that, for the most part, we have a tendency to create these invisible barriers between ourselves and the homeless within our community because of the stereotypical views we have. At one time in history, those stereotypes may have even been valid. It’s a certainty that for a long time the overwhelming majority of homeless were men. And I’m willing to bet that most people still think of "men" when they think about who is homeless.

To be sure, the majority of the homeless are still men. However the percentage of homeless who are men has been shrinking over the last ten to fifteen years.

According the fact sheet, "Who Is Homeless?" published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, families with children are the fastest growing segment of America’s homeless population.

On page two of the fact sheet; it cites a survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors which concluded that families with children represent 33% of the homeless. That means that 1 in 3 of the homeless are part of a family unit. Overall, 39% of the homeless are children under the age of 18; and a staggering 42% of all homeless children are under the age of 5!

I find it disturbing that we are willing to make donations to various organizations which help children in remote parts of the world. And, that’s fine. We should be willing to help children who are suffering. Yet, we seem indifferent to children within our own national borders who are also living in less than 3rd world conditions.

And, why is this?

I think it’s just force of habit.

We still have the overall tendency to think of a person who is homeless as being a disheveled male who is lying in an alleyway clutching a bottle of whatever in a brown paper bag. Or, we think of a homeless person as someone who it just too lazy to go out and get a job. Or, if we even consider the possibility that a woman is homeless, we think of her as some type of crazy "bag lady" or some sort of woman who is of low morality.

The dictionary defines "rehabilitate" this way,

Rehabilitate (v.)

  1. Help to readapt, as to a former state of health or good repute

  2. Restore to a state of good condition or operation

It’s easy for us to expect the homeless to rehabilitate themselves so that they’ll stop being homeless. Yet, we’re reluctant about rehabilitating ourselves and our views regarding the homeless. And, because we are reticent about modifying our way of thinking with regards to the homeless, the barriers continue to go up. This precludes the ability to find effective solutions for reducing the numbers of homeless within our communities.

I think it’s just time we kicked the habit.

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