A Change In Wording

Posted: October 16, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Morality

Sometimes it seems like my list of pet peeves just keeps getting longer by the day. And from time to time, something happens that really ruffles my feathers in the extreme. Today, it’s intellectual dishonesty which is on my list of things which are bothering me right at this moment.  

For example –

The computer I’m writing this post on uses Microsoft Windows as its operating system. Whether that’s good or bad is debatable depending on who you talk to. All of that aside however, most folks who use Windows and have the "Automatic Updates" feature enabled find that a small icon pops up in their system tray roughly once a month. It’s there to notify you that Windows has some flaw which needs to be corrected particularly if you use the Internet – and if you’re reading these words, then your using the Internet right now.

What gets me about the whole update thing is that once you’ve downloaded the updates, up pops up a screen which prompts you to "install" the updates – which is probably a good thing to do. After all, there’s no need to download the updates and not install them. However, on that window near the bottom is a sentence which states,

Note: You may need to restart your computer for the updates to take effect.

And, that’s where the intellectual dishonesty comes in.

I’ve never downloaded and installed any update from Microsoft which didn’t require me to reboot my computer. And I’m sure those folks over at Microsoft know bloody well that no matter what, you’re going to have to reboot your computer for any of those updates to take effect. The question is then: why don’t they just come out and say that you’re going to have to reboot right from the get go? To me, that’s a prime example of intellectual dishonesty.

There is another type of intellectual dishonesty which also gets my goat. In this case, however, it has to do with the way most cities and municipalities try remedying homelessness.

Most communities across the U.S. have a problem with homelessness. The numbers of persons who are homeless far exceeds the numbers of available shelter beds in most cities. In addition to that, despite claims by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s claim of a reduction in homelessness, most cities across the nation a reporting an increase of homeless – particularly in the numbers of families which are becoming homeless.

Within the city limits of San Luis Obispo, the statistics show that the homeless outnumber shelter beds by a ratio of about 5 to 1. To put it another way: only 1 out of every 5 homeless persons has a realistic chance of having a bed to sleep in tonight.

Yet, despite the increase in the numbers of homeless, there has not been an increase in services. Additionally, although the numbers of families which are becoming homeless is on the rise, nothing has been done to alter the methodology or types of services offered by homeless shelters. They still cater primarily to single homeless adult men. And, the battle cry is always the same: lack of adequate funding.

To be completely fair: the vast majority of homeless support services organizations are most definitely under funded. It seems no matter how many times they go before the local governments seeking funding they seldom receive more than leftovers. Also, when they reach out to the local community seeking donations, there are very few who step up and help.

To me, that reeks to high heaven of intellectual dishonesty.

We talk about wanting an end to homelessness in our communities, but we want it only if it doesn’t personally cost us anything. We look to homeless support services providers saying that they need to do more to get the homeless off the streets, but we aren’t willing to make financial donations to help them achieve that goal. Or, we complain to our local elected leaders that the homeless are sleeping in doorways or city parks; or that they’re scrounging through our trash cans; or that they’re creating a public nuisance – but we aren’t willing to roll up our shirt sleeves and invest of ourselves to help reduce the numbers of homeless. We simply sit on our collective behinds waiting for someone else to do something.

Our locally elected leaderships aren’t all that much better. Instead of trying to find solutions for allocating additional financial resources for homeless support services providers, they waste taxpayer dollars on studies and reports and passing laws and ordinances which penalize and criminalize the homeless for performing life sustaining activities in public.

All homelessness is a local social issue. Each community has its unique circumstances with regards to its homeless population. As such, each community must find its own solutions for ending homelessness. But, it requires that everyone – including the homeless – become involved in finding equitable solutions.

If we truly want to have a chance at reducing the numbers of homeless individuals in our communities, we must set aside our prejudices; our misconceptions; our stereotypical views of who can become homeless and begin seeing this segment of our fellow citizens – not as homeless persons, but rather as persons who just happen to be homeless.

It may seems like a small change in wording; something somewhat insignificant. However, I have this belief that if we see these folks as being people first and homeless second – and not the other way around – we stand a better chance of actually helping them become re-integrated back into our communities.

And, that should be the goal, shouldn’t it?

  1. On our last newsletter at the Respite, one of the nurses helped me proof and pointed out that I referred to our clients twice as “the homeless,” which is a quick, easy term to use. Leaving out “people” does seem a bit heartless, but I didn’t realize that until she pointed it out. There are so many publications that discuss “the homeless” and there does seem to be a disconnect; our society seems to see these people first for their economic plight and second for their personhood.

  2. AnAmerican says:

    Our homeless citizens are simply citizens without homes. Their lack of a home has no bearing on their underlying character, values or worth in our country. Sadly, many in our society let superficial material possesions define success instead of looking at the quality of people.
    For those of us who do have a home, wouldn’t we all be personally enriched by promoting compassion and kindness by being advocates for those who aren’t as fortunate as we are?

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