Mid-morning yesterday, I received a telephone call from a gentleman I became friends with while I was still homeless. He himself is still homeless but is hopeful that within the next month or so, he will be able to get himself into permanent housing.
Toward the end of the conversation, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned something which had happened to him several days earlier.
Two women had driven past where he had been sitting. He didn’t give it any thought until they drove by again. This time however, they stopped, exited the vehicle and approached him. He noticed that one of them was carrying a camera.
The woman with the camera asked if she could take a photograph of him. When he said no, she offered to pay him two dollars if he would allow her to. When he said no again, she upped the offer to five dollars. Again he said no. This time however, the woman didn’t offer any more money. She simply began taking focus with her camera.
My friend stood up as quickly as he could, gathered his belongings and began to walk away. As he did, he heard the woman’s voice behind him say: "Stupid bum!"
My friend didn’t turn around, he just kept walking.
When he finished telling me about what had happened, I asked if the woman had mentioned why she wanted the photograph. She hadn’t. And he hadn’t really thought to ask. Nor did he care why she wanted to photograph him.
After we’d hung up, I began thinking about the many other homeless folks I’ve met who have had their share of being disregarded as people.
Several of the homeless women I know have been approached by non-homeless male members of the community who have offered them money in exchange for certain sexual favors.
There is one homeless gentleman I know – also a friend of mine – who had been approached by an elderly man who offered to "take him home and give him a massage." When this other friend of mine informed the elderly man that he wasn’t interested, he proceeded to say to my friend that it was "worth ten bucks."
Other homeless I know have been approached by members of the community who are intent in proselytizing the homeless – something which used to happen to me quite often while I was still living on the streets.
These folks, I’m sure had good intentions. But they would go on for twenty or thirty minutes trying to "save my soul" from eternal damnation, while completely disregarding the fact that my stomach was growling from hunger loud enough that it could be heard – even out of doors. In fact, there was only one woman "of faith" who actually ever fed me – and she never tried to convert me. To be sure, she would hand me a piece of religious literature every now and again, but she never insisted that I read it.
To be honest, the homeless will generally listen politely to someone who "witnesses" to them, but seldom do they give any credibility to what is being said to them or to the person themselves. Why? Because talk is cheap and so are the persons who try to convert the homeless. And actions do speak louder than words.
When it comes to sharing your faith with a homeless person, it does absolutely no good to be so Heavenly minded that you’re no Earthly good.
When a person becomes homeless, they lose their home and most, if not all, of the possessions that go along with having a place to live. They do not lose their intelligence; their religious faith; their political views; or their sense of morality. Most importantly, they do not lose their inherent or Constitutional rights.
Yet, so many folks fail to recognize the homeless as people: human beings who experience the same emotions that the rest of us feel. They can, and often times are, humiliated by the "fine upstanding" members of the community. They are treated disrespectfully; disdainfully; with contempt, scorn and hatred.
Homeless Veterans are treated as outcasts in the very nation which they served to protect. Homeless women are viewed and treated as being of loose morals or "an easy lay." Homeless children desperately hide their homelessness for fear of being taunted by their classmates. Some homeless women with dependant children will not seek assistance through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for fear of having their children taken from them and placed in a child protective services facility.
Admittedly, there are those homeless who aren’t the nicest people in the world. Some of them, in fact, are the epitome of the homeless stereotype. But, I’ve met many a homeless person who have a higher sense of morals than some of the non-homeless members of the community.
Quite frankly, when it comes to the way the homeless are treated by so many within the community, I find their brand of morality highly suspect.