Posted: July 17, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

Off and on throughout the day yesterday, I kept thinking about the post I’d written in the morning. And I kept thinking about that homeless gentleman I’d met.

I think what impressed me about him was that he had admitted to having had become homeless because of an alcohol addition. He had owned up to having caused his own "downfall." He hadn’t even attempted to shift the blame elsewhere.  

But something "clicked" inside of him. He had wanted a better life. He had wanted it deeply enough that he had gone through a rehabilitation program to get himself sober. He was most certainly sober when I met him. Yet, despite having been clean and sober for nearly two years, he admitted that the stresses of homelessness often times tempted him to begin drinking again.

While I personally do not approve of drunkenness, I can understand why a person who is homeless might choose to dull their senses while living on the streets. Homelessness is a terrible condition to have to endure day in and day out. And, regardless of what so many people believe – getting out of homelessness is not easy. It takes so much more than just going out and getting a job – which seems to be what most folks believe to be the cure all for homelessness.

Sure, a person can go out and get a job flipping burgers at McDonald’s, but earning minimum wage at a part time job just doesn’t cut it.

There are folks in the work force right now who are making substantially more than minimum wage, yet they are living paycheck to paycheck. One small financial glitch in their lives and they too might find themselves homeless. It doesn’t take much these days to place a person into a position where the city streets become home. And that – is reality.

The homeless gentleman I’d met had gone through rehabilitation in an attempt to rebuild his life. But it occurs to me that it will take a different type of rehabilitation for America’s homeless to get a proper chance at becoming housed members of society. And, believe it or not, the one’s who need to be rehabilitated is the rest of us.

Yes, you read that correctly. We, the rest of society, are the ones who need to be rehabilitated if we are going to make significant headway at reducing the numbers of homeless in our nation.

First, homeless support services agencies must rehabilitate the methods used to provide services to the homeless. Providing just a meal and a bed – which are the only services which most homeless shelters offer – simply aren’t enough. New, innovative and comprehensive programs must be implemented: programs which are designed to actually help the homeless transition back into the community.

Next, local municipal governments must stop "dealing" with homelessness by adopting and enacting laws and ordinances which only penalize the homeless for being homeless. If anything, local government must rehabilitate their legislative actions to create new laws which mandate providing adequate funding to help the homeless; to provide them with the types of assistance which are designed to place the homeless into some form of stabilized housing.

Also, the business community must rehabilitate their hiring practices. Perhaps a concerted effort between themselves, the local governments, and the homeless support services agencies to find ways of providing jobs to the homeless which provide a livable wage. Maybe a minor "tax break" for hiring a homeless person might give local businesses an incentive to find ways of hiring the homeless.

But, the most important of these rehabilitations has to come from the community itself. There has to be a rehabilitation of the way we view the homeless. We have to "rehab" what we believe homelessness to be; who the homeless are; and who can become homeless.

We have to rehabilitate our narrow view of the homeless we spot on the streets. We have to stop believing that all homeless are drunkards, drug addicts, or lazy and unwilling to work. We have to rehabilitate ourselves so that we cease having prejudices toward the homeless; prejudices which are based solely on misconceptions and stereotypes.

It seems strange to me that we want the homeless to stop being "drunken bums" but, all the while, we’re intoxicated by our dislike and disgust of the homeless. We want them to clean themselves up and "fly right." Yet, we’re unwilling to "fly right" and treat them with even a modicum of human dignity.

Perhaps what we need as a society is a type of 12 Step program which would rehabilitate and educate us about homelessness, and which would take the intolerance we seem to have toward the homeless and replace it with compassion for them.

  1. Lil Angel Wolf says:

    Last year while going thru a rough time, I penned some words. I did a whole blog on poverty. I believe this nation is upside down, and that is my belief. I did not fall into poverty on any one thing that I did. I have many medical problems, and my husband wanted a divorce. How am I to blame for such a thing. So many things have happened in my life, stuff to make your eyes boggle. Enough to write a series of books, and not just one. It would take many many voulumes to fill up the days that I have been thru in my life. Supressed many memories as they are so hurtful. Anyhow, in my one blog on 3-26-2007, I penned these words:

    Whosoever is rich
    let him become poor.
    And whosoever is poor
    let him become rich.
    Let us live in the riches
    of values and virtues,
    for it is there
    that we shall
    forever become

    This of course meaning when we all walk in someone elses shoes, we will know what it is like and the ones who are “rich” money wise will get off their high horses and understand what it is like to be “poor” money wise, but that we shall all have the same value in life. Nobody better than the rest….
    God Bless you Michael for having a place for all to come to….

  2. AnAmerican says:

    It’s insane how we as a country continue along the same lines in our inefficiency in dealing with homelessness. We continue to do the same things with the same ineffective results and don’t seem to know WHY things aren’t working. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity?)
    Rehabilitation sounds like a great idea for our methods of helping those who are homeless….a different focus & different mindset & the ability to recognize that how we treat all people in this country is the real barometer of the greatness (or lack of) of our nation!

  3. Kudos to your clean friend.

    Even if he’s clean on and off – a social worker here at the Respite told me it takes an average of six tries for an alcoholic to become sober, and I know that relapsing is a tough process emotionally and physically. I love the idea of “turning the table” and asking society to confront the issue of homelessness. The able-bodied clients who leave the Respite usually are most successful in finding employment with family, friends, and former employers, a.k.a. those who knew them before they were homeless. I only have anecdotal evidence of this, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? In any case, an employed, once-homeless person always gives me hope.

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