A Dual Approach

Posted: September 5, 2008 in Compassion, Goals, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Morality

Every so often, I’ll get an email or someone will post a comment which sticks with me. Something which the reader has written strikes a chord within me and I end up thinking about what they’ve said for quite some time afterward.  

For example: It’s been just over a week since I posted Guilty Consciences?

One reader left a comment and finished with this:

Do we expect people to "earn" our compassion?

I haven’t been able to shake that question. I’ve been thinking about it off and on since I read it. As I go about my day, noticing the folks around me, I find myself wondering how they themselves view the homeless.

I look back at how I viewed the homeless prior to my having personally experienced homelessness. The truth is that I do view the homeless differently now than I did then. It isn’t that I held any disdain or disregard for the homeless. I didn’t. If or when I had the ability to do so, I would help them out with whatever I could afford. But I certainly didn’t have the level or depth of compassion for them as I do now.

I’m willing to wager that there quite a number of folks who feel toward the homeless similarly to how I did prior to my personal experience. They’re willing to extend a helping hand but aren’t entirely sure of the best way help. Subsequently, the types of assistance that the homeless do receive, most of the time doesn’t provide the means to help get them off of the streets.

On the other hand, I’m also willing to wager that there are probably more folks who view the homeless through tainted eyes; folks who, for whatever reason, are unable to see the homeless as worthy of being shown compassion. And, once again, doesn’t provide the means for the homeless to escape life on the streets.

Even the majority of homeless support services agencies – including government programs and services – do not truly provide effective means for the homeless to "raise their standard of living." If anything, it keeps the homeless trapped in a vicious cycle by creating a type of co-dependence on the "system" rather than helping them become self-sufficient.

The consequence is that the general public doesn’t see any significant measure of "success" at reducing the numbers of homeless in their community. And, personally, I think this may be one of the reasons that so many folks have a difficult time believing that the homeless desire a better life. They know that there are "programs" to help the homeless, but it appears – at least on the surface – that the homeless are not availing themselves of the "opportunities which society is affording them."

This, then, becomes a double edged sword. The reasoning associated with it says, that since the homeless are seemingly unwilling to take advantage of the opportunities and assistance provided through homeless support services, or through government programs, then obviously the homeless are just too lazy to want to do something with their lives.

As a result, we develop a mindset which says that since the homeless aren’t willing to help themselves, why should we as a society waste our time trying to help them?

And that, of course, brings us right back to the question posed by the reader who left her comment: "Do we expect people to ‘earn’ our compassion?"

To be perfectly honest: I don’t know the answer to her question.

I have witnessed many acts of random kindness toward the homeless by members of the mainstream community. But, I’ve also witnessed just as many – if not more – acts of deliberate and open hostility toward the homeless.

There are not clear cut or simply solutions to ending homelessness in our communities. There is not a "one size fits all" method for providing assistance to our homeless.

Granted, customizing services for each homeless person would be an expensive venture – and I don’t see how it can be made feasible. Yet, neither is applying "crowd control" or "assembly line" techniques as a method for offering services to the homeless a viable solution. What is needed is a combination of the two; a type of hybrid – a dual approach, if you will – using the best of both methodologies.

But most importantly, is the need to cease de-humanizing our nation’s homeless and allow ourselves the potential we all have for expressing compassion to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Compassion is not something which should have to be earned.

Compassion is something which should be freely given.

  1. AnAmerican says:

    “Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” Dalai Lama

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