Guilty Consciences?

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

When I began this blog nearly 18 months ago, it was my hope that it might have an impact by providing folks with a different point of view regarding homelessness. I was under no illusions that it would have a giant effect at reducing homelessness; or that because of it homelessness was going to be a thing of the past.  

Primarily though, it was about finding a bit of self-healing; a way to deal with the struggles I’d gone through. If, in the process, it ended up helping even one homeless person – either directly or indirectly – by raising the awareness of someone (or a number of someone’s in my community), that would have been a type of bonus.

So, I began writing post after post.

Now that I look back at many of the things I’ve written I find that the overall and underlying themes have consisted of trying to dispel the many stereotypes and misconceptions that surround homelessness. For some reason, I seemed to have instinctively known that if folks could somehow see the homeless from a perspective different than they normally do, then perhaps they might be willing to extend a bit of assistance.

I still believe that.

I am still firmly convinced that if the mainstream community had a way of viewing the homeless through eyes that weren’t jaded by misconceptions and stereotypes – and as a consequence, prejudice – there might be a stronger push to find genuine and viable solutions to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless. And, that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?

The result is that I’ve cited statistics; I’ve provided links to studies, enumerative reports, fact sheets and various other data; I’ve pointed out that the homeless are not who most people believe they are; that the majority of homeless are atypical of the images that are conjured up in the minds of most folks when they think of homelessness; and the reality that anyone can be afflicted by homelessness.

Yet, I’ve always been acutely aware that old habits, old ideas and old prejudices die hard. They seldom change overnight. And, in some instances are stubbornly held onto despite evidence to the contrary. That’s just part of human nature – some folks simply refuse to believe the truth because it would entail their admitting that they were wrong.

Even in the news media, the homeless are most often portrayed as being the dregs of society. They are seen as some type of infestation that needs to be neutralized and gotten rid of – or at the very least removed from public sight.

Local municipalities have expended undue energies (and taxpayer dollars) at trying to curtail the movements of the homeless; they enact ordinances and laws which prohibit many of the life sustaining activities of the homeless. Some cities have gone so far as to pass ordinances to prohibit charitable organizations and private citizens from feeding the homeless in public areas. And despite the surge in the numbers of cities implementing their own versions of a "ten year plan" to end homelessness – very little is actually being done to significantly help the homeless.

I’ve also come to the realization that the homeless are "easy targets" for us to point our fingers and shake our heads in disgust at.

And it makes me wonder why.

Could it be that each time we see a homeless person we recognize that except "for the Grace of God" that person might be us, and that’s something we just don’t want to face?

Or, could it be that it’s just easier for us to ignore the problem so that we aren’t held accountable for all of the things we know we should be doing, but aren’t?

  1. It seems that each story dipping into homelessness is unique, and that many require a “custom” solution. I wonder if the complexities simply overwhelm those with mere minutes to spare in an average day. The last resort is often to just “close the door” on the “messy room” when there isn’t time to fully clean it.

    I DO think that fear plays in as well. And denial. We avoid what we cannot – do not want – to fathom as a possibility for any one of us. Some people seem to grab onto the negative stories of the homeless, create their own prejudice and then use it as an excuse to ignore what cannot be easily solved.

    I wonder about how we rush to aid victims of natural disasters and yet can be oblivious to those who have slid into the same tragic circumstance for reasons we simply do not know. Do we expect people to “earn” our compassion?

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