An Appalling Silence

Posted: June 1, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Morality, Self Esteem

A friend of mine had been on my mind quite often over the last week or two.

He had been homeless for awhile and had managed to begin transitioning back into the community. Right now he’s struggling to maintain. So many different things have been happening with such rapidity that he’s become a bit overwhelmed.

Because he knows what it’s like to have been homeless, he has been trying to reach out to the homeless in his area; trying to do what he can to help. With the support of other friends, he has been distributing "care packages" to those homeless who he chances to encounter during his days. Unfortunately he doesn’t feel as though anything he’s doing is making a bit of difference. And, in so many ways it seems to him that everything he’s done thus far has been futile.

All of that makes me wonder if that it perhaps why we, as a society, are a bit reluctant to try helping the homeless?  

I’m not saying that we aren’t doing anything to help, but considering that homelessness; requests for emergency shelter; and homeless support services have increased about 22 percent, it might seem to us that nothing we do is having a significant impact on reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities. But perhaps we’re not looking deep enough beneath the surface.

When a person first finds themselves homeless one of the first things that takes a battering is that person’s self-esteem. It isn’t easy to watch whatever life you’ve managed to build up slip away into nothingness. And it can cause you to question your own personal judgment. Even a person who has a strong sense of self can find themselves questioning their abilities.

Also, facing discrimination from many within the community – discrimination based on stereotypes – doesn’t help bolster one’s confidence. Let’s face it; there aren’t many people who can be mistreated by total strangers day after day without it having a negative impact on a person’s psyche. What’s worse it that it can actually breed bitterness. That’s not good – for either the homeless person or the community.

I wonder what type of impact we might have if we began treating the homeless as equals rather than beneath us? What if we began taking an interest in the homeless as individuals and fellow human beings instead of as a statistics? And, what if we began showing the homeless the dignity and respect that we should other persons?

Is it possible that we might begin the process of helping rebuild and heal the inner person of individuals who may need just the slightest bit of social acceptance? Might that not give them enough faith in themselves to try regaining a solid foot hold back into the mainstream of the community?

The old adage is that you can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

I’m not saying that we should coddle the homeless. And, most certainly there are those homeless who, no matter what is done to try and assist them, will not produce any positive results. But what of those who need just the slightest encouragement? Is it fair for us to turn our backs on them just because we can’t help every homeless person or because some of the homeless choose to remain homeless?

Martin Luther King Jr. said:

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

So long as there are homeless who we can help but don’t, the "appalling silence of the good people" will be deafening.

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