By Default

Posted: June 28, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

"Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind"
– John Donne, 16th Century English Poet –

At the beginning of May, I published the post, Contrasts.

In it I spoke about the deaths of two Los Angeles area homeless men: Paul Vados and Kenneth McDavid. Both had been killed in deliberate "hit and run" incidents. And, both men were murdered by the same two individuals.

The motive behind the murders was greed.  

Yesterday afternoon, I read a news article on Fox News Online, Cars Slow to Watch as Teens Beat Homeless Man to Death.

Anthony Waters, a homeless gentleman from the Cleveland area, was severely beaten by three local area teens, and died later in the hospital. The teens robbed Mr. Waters of a portable music player and headphones.

The beating was recorded by a surveillance camera.

What saddens me is that the surveillance tape shows that there were motorists who were driving by during the attack. While the motorist’s did slow down to watch what was happening, not one of them stopped to offer Mr. Waters any assistance.

During a news conference regarding the incident, Cleveland’s Police Commander Calvin Williams, "…urged the attackers to come forward."

If Commander Williams actually expects these teens to come forward and face prosecution, then he his naive in the extreme.

Violence perpetrated against the homeless is on the rise.

The National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness, states the following:

"Most hate crimes/violent acts are committed not by organized hate groups, but by individual citizens who harbor a strong resentment against a certain group of people. Some are "mission offenders," who believe they are on a mission to cleanse the world of a particular evil. Others are "scapegoat offenders," who violently act out their resentment toward the perceived growing economic power of a particular racial or ethnic group. Still others are "thrill seekers," those who take advantage of a vulnerable and disadvantaged group in order to satisfy their own pleasures. Thrill seekers, primarily in their teens, are the most common perpetrators of violence against people who are homeless."

What is so disturbing about these types of incidents is that there are people who will view the murder of a homeless person as being insignificant; of no consequence. To many, it’s simply a case of one less person who is "sponging off of society." No big deal.

The very notion that any human being is disposable, based on their societal (or residential) status, is absurd. Every human life is precious. Yet, there are those who view the homeless as being less than human. This de-humanization of the homeless is, in part, to blame for the increasing numbers of homeless in our nation.

When we view the homeless as being "less equal" or "beneath" us, we make ourselves incapable of provide the types of assistance that could potentially help them regain a foothold and become functioning members of our communities. Moreover, we pass these prejudices on to subsequent generations.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence says,

"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."

I note that it doesn’t state that only those who have a place to live are "created equal." I also note that it doesn’t say that the unalienable right to "…Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" does not apply to the homeless.

Perhaps, if we turn off the stereotypical views we have in our minds regarding the homeless, and begin to view them through the eyes of compassion, we’d be more willing to extend a helping hand. Perhaps if we recognized that the only real dissimilarity between the homeless and ourselves is one of "residential status," we’d have the ability to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities.

Are there homeless who are lazy?

Yes. But there are plenty of "housed" folks who are just as lazy.

Are there homeless who have an addiction disorder?

Yes. But, then again, there are a lot of housed folks who do as well.

Are there homeless who are unsavory characters?

Without a doubt. But, the same can be said for many who are "housed."

Shall I continue with the list of questions?

Or is it becoming obvious that whatever adjective you "tag" the homeless with, can just as easily be applied to any number of persons who have a place to live – and can even be applied to some who are considered the "pillars of the community?"

De-humanizing the homeless simply because the do not have a place to live or because we’ve allowed ourselves to believe the misconceptions and stereotypes of homelessness, in turn de-humanizes each and every one of us by default.

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