Parallels. Double Standards.

Posted: July 7, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

In yesterday post, I mentioned New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin and controversial statement he had made regarding how to "deal" with homelessness in the city. His solution was to give the homeless a one-way ticket out of town.

I wanted to do some double checking, so I did a Google search and found enough links to satisfy myself that Mr. Nagin had indeed made such an inhumane statement.  

One of the links that came up in the search was a May 28, 2008 New York Times article, Resources Scarce, Homelessness Persists in New Orleans, which opened with these two paragraphs:

"Mayor C. Ray Nagin recently suggested a way to reduce this city’s post-Katrina homeless population: give them one-way bus tickets out of town.

Mr. Nagin later insisted the off-the-cuff proposal was just a joke. But he has portrayed the dozens of people camped in a tent city under a freeway overpass near Canal Street as recalcitrant drug and alcohol abusers who refuse shelter, give passers-by the finger and, worst of all, hail from somewhere else."

Although I personally haven’t taken a poll, I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask people what the solution for homelessness in their community is the top two answers would be: for the homeless to go elsewhere and for the homeless to get employment.

The first – that the homeless go elsewhere – is so idiotic an idea that I won’t even bother addressing it. The second – that the homeless get jobs – is something I’ve written about, but am going to address once again.

In a new release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, The Employment Situation: June 2008, the following two sentences sums it all up:

"The number of unemployed persons was essentially unchanged in June, at 8.5 million, and the unemployment rate held at 5.5 percent. A year earlier, the number of unemployed persons was 7.0 million, and the jobless rate was 4.6 percent."

It is so convenient to say that the homeless should run right out and get themselves employed. The truth of the matter is that there are 8.5 million people (that we know of) who are currently unemployed. Those numbers however are based solely on those persons who are presently receiving unemployment benefits. There are probably quite a number of folks for whom their unemployment benefits have run out. And, once it does, their names are removed from the "count," regardless of whether or not they are still unemployed. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that there are probably more persons who are unemployed than are actually being reported.

The homeless, as a result of their limited wardrobes and a lack of access to places where they can safely store their possessions – thus making it necessary to carry it all with them – are greatly disadvantaged when it comes to trying to find employment. Let’s face it; the homeless are not the "snappiest" dressed people. The very social condition in which they find themselves precludes it. Moreover, they are forced to compete for job openings against folks who "appear" to be more wholesome simply by virtue of the cleanliness of their clothing.

Additionally, because of the many misconceptions and stereotypes which are associated with homelessness, it is easy to understand why many employers would be somewhat reluctant to hire a homeless person.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that employers are deliberately engaging in unfair or discriminatory hiring practices – although there may be some who are. But, we’re talking about human beings. And human beings often times react to certain situations based on what their personal perceptions are – regardless of whether or not those perceptions are based in actually reality.

For so long, we have allowed ourselves to equate homelessness with drunkenness, drug additions, laziness and so on, that we overlook the definition of the word homeless.

Homeless is a combining of two words: home and less.

Less a home. Or more accurately: minus a home; minus a place to live.

Any negative adjective that can be applied to a person who doesn’t have a place to call home, can just as easily be applied to many folks who are "housed."

Are there homeless who are drunkards? Yes, there are. But, then again, there are also housed members of the community who are alcoholics.

Are there homeless who have an addiction disorder? Most certainly. However, many housed persons also have drug addictions.

Is what I’m saying starting to sink in? Can you see the parallels?

A person’s moral character isn’t based on whether they have a place to live or not. And it is certainly not based on the amount of wealth or other material possessions they may have.

Let me take it to an extreme.

In almost every supermarket, right there are the check out, there are racks of magazines and other "news" media. Oh and how the headlines are filled with such sensationalistic headlines. Folks buy those things by the ton just to see who’s in trouble this week, or which famous personality is sleeping with whom.

I find it rather ludicrous that quite a number of the celebrities which Americans idolize are themselves drunks and drug addicts and fornicators and adulterers and… well, you get the idea. Yet, Americans are willing to forgive these celebrities their "mistakes" simply because they’re famous. And, what’s worse – we are willing to continue supporting their addictions and lubricious behavior by continuing to by their recordings, paying exorbitant prices for tickets to their films, buying their clothing lines, etcetera. We’re rewarding them for being rakehells just because we think they’re cute or handsome.

On the other hand, let some homeless person dig through our trash can looking for aluminum cans to take to the recyclers; or let some poor soul stand on a corner holding a sign; or walk up to us asking for some spare change and we go ballistic. We’re ready to run them out of town. We complain to our elected leaders that something has to be done about "those homeless people."

Maybe if we, as a society, were more willing to provide the funding necessary to help the homeless – instead of condemning them at every twist and turn – their self-esteem wouldn’t be as badly bruised. And that might provide them with the inner strength to actually find a way out of homelessness.

  1. Papahere says:

    Michael…we frequently hear about the “American Dream” and that everyone can achieve it if they work hard…it is then assumed the homeless did not work hard and deserve their dilemma.

    It is important the homeless do not accept this myth and accuse them self of failing to achieve their share of the pie…there is another dream of living simply with dignity…that is the way I live and it would be a lot easier for the homeless achieve.


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