Difference of Decisions

Posted: August 12, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Religion

Yesterday, I had some medical needs to attend to. The problem with it all is that it took up almost all of my day. And then of course, there was all of the waiting in between procedures. During those "waiting" times I did quite a bit of thinking – a type of taking stock of things.  

Afterward, once I’d made it back home, I realized that the types of decisions I’m making these days are vastly different than the types of decisions I was making while I was still living on the streets of my community.

Back then, the majority of decisions were about basic survival and nothing more. While there were dreams of a better future, those dreams were not at the top of the list of things to do. At the top were such things as trying to ensure that I had at least one meal to eat on any given day. Or, that I had a safe place to sleep at night. The priorities for the future seldom extended past the following day, because the following day was as far ahead into the future as one was willing to look.

It isn’t that a homeless person doesn’t have dreams for a better future. They most certainly do. However, it’s hard to dream about a day when you might have a roof over your head when the rest of your life is centered around the sidewalks of your city. Dreams for a better future are abstract. Dreams about staying dry when the weather is wet or trying to stay cool during the summer are concrete.

Additionally, it’s hard to think about getting ahead when it seems to you that you aren’t able to get the type of help you need to transition off of the streets. You go to one agency, and it seems that invariably they refer you somewhere else. Or, else you end up at the correct agency, but for any number of reasons you don’t qualify for this or that assistance program.

As for employment: jobs are scare and when you go into some business and ask for a job application, the person who hands it to you may being speaking courteously, but you noticed how they looked you up and down, with just a bit of disgust. It’s probably because your clothing is pretty well weather worn, so you definitely don’t look as though you just stepped out of a Sears catalog.

Even at the homeless shelter – the place where you figure you’d be treated with just a bit of human dignity, because after all, that’s what they’re there for: to help you out, right? But no such luck. You’re just another number; another statistic. Human interaction between the homeless and the homeless shelter personal is more clinical and sterile than it is at the welfare department. Go figure.

The majority of the folks in your community don’t seem to be willing to allow you the benefit of the doubt. If you are one of those who hunts aluminum cans for recycling, they automatically assume that you’re doing it because you’re trying to get yourself something to drink. The same for panhandling.

The religious folks: they love seeing you stand out there. It means brownie points on their behalf if they can get you to get saved right there on the corner. Never mind that it’s a hundred degrees out and you’re sweating like there will be no tomorrow. They won’t offer you a bottle of water. No sir. They don’t really care about the fact you’re out there just about to stroke out from the heat.

In fact, they’ll tell you that you need to stop focusing on the material world and beginning worrying about your eternal soul and where you’re going to end up spending eternity, and do you know Jesus as your own personal lord and savior. And, by the way, Heaven help you if you don’t get saved right then and there. Chances are if they ever see you again they’ll look at you like you’re this horrible sinner straight on your way to hell. They’ll shake the proverbial dust off their shoes and leave you to die in your sin. Little do they know you’re already living a hell-like existence.

Then of course are those folks who are so brave and clever as they yell out at that you should get a job or as they yell out insults and derogatory statements. Oddly enough, none of those folks ever seem to have the moral courage to come right up to you and say something mean and nasty. They always seem to do it as they’re driving away.

Yes, the decisions I make now are vastly different than the decisions I was making while I was still yet homeless.

I wonder what would happen; how much of an impact we could have as a society at reducing the numbers of homeless, if we started making different decisions than we’ve been currently making about homelessness. If we, for instance, decided we were going to begin helping the homeless help themselves, don’t you think that would be a step in the right direction?

And, what if we made a decision that not only were we going to help the homeless help themselves, but were going to begin seeing the homeless as worthy of our compassion and acceptance? Wouldn’t that be an even better thing?

  1. AnAmerican says:

    After reading about how the staff of shelters interact with homeless clients, I was a bit shocked…afterall, these are people who the staff serves so they should be handled with care and concern.
    This got me to thinking…in this day of increasing job competition employers would do well to choose folks with the best qulaifications. How about shelters hiring the homeless..they certainly know about being homeless and would add much needed insight to many of the apparent “clinical” scenarios of shelters.
    Thinking outside the box is sorely needed when it comes to the issue of homeless.

  2. Chris says:

    Towards AnAmerican’s comment, I’ve heard the same from homeless in my city. I wonder if they (being those that work in shelters and other organizations) become dazed, indifferent, or find it easier to cope by not knowing those they are serving. I can see when I get overwhelmed that I get turned off for lack of being able to handle things.

    But I thought that a lot of the organizations supporting the homeless *do* sometimes hire those that were homeless at one time.

    Michael – what I am pondering is what is the best way for my city for me (and others) to help the homeless help themselves? Volunteering with the homeless organizations? For reasons you state, I don’t do that fully but have been involved with some others in getting a dinner setup, and have done a bit of other volunteering. Some of these others and I have also brought clothes, toiletries, other items and food and water on a few occasions directly out as well. But I wonder – what makes the best sense in helping the homeless help themselves? I will wait and do what I’ve been doing until that is clear.

    I’m hoping though that a new program in my area (Unity Works) might help provide some direction though.

    I understand the sentiment you ascribe to regarding “religious folks”, but haven’t seen it here nor have I heard any homeless (well except one guy who thought I was some other guy who was trying to tell him about Jesus Christ) mention it.

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.