Communal Healing

Posted: November 22, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

I’ve been thinking about the post I published a couple of days ago. The whole notion of trying to apply euphemisms to homelessness seems rather absurd to me. I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to do so. It seems to me that doing so simply belittles those who are afflicted by homelessness; and it robs them of their humanity.  

For example –

A number of months ago, a friend of mine was trying to put together a presentation to try and gain support from several non-profit organizations so that she might be able to help homeless women in the area. While putting together her presentation, someone from one of the groups she was approaching suggested that rather than use the word homeless, she might be wise to change it to "persons at risk" to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.

A few days before she was scheduled to make her presentation, she asked if I would be willing to look it over and perhaps offer any suggestions for any improvements or corrections. She also mentioned why she was using the phrase "persons at risk" rather than the word "homeless." My response was: "… at risk of what?"

It seems to me that after a person has become homeless, the risk is over. After all, it would make more sense – at least to me – that a person or persons who were in the process of potentially becoming homeless would be considered "at risk." And, to tell the truth, the idea that some person who was supposedly involved with helping the homeless being offended by the word "homeless" seemed somewhat idiotic.

In the end, I had to ask her if she felt comfortable making the verbal switch: using "persons at risk" in place of homeless persons. She had to admit that she didn’t. She, too, felt that making such a switch would be denying certain realities.

And before someone sends me an email pointing out that a rose by any other name is still a rose, let me point out that when it comes to homeless persons, we are not talking about inanimate objects: we are talking about thinking, feeling human beings.

Unfortunately, there are many folks who don’t think of homeless people as being people – or least not people who are worthy of being shown some basic human dignity. And therein is part of the reason that the homeless in this nation are not getting the types of assistance they require to get off the streets.

Even with all of the "10 year plans to end homelessness" which are springing up all across the nation, generally the homeless are still not being recognized a persons. They aren’t being seen as members of our communities who are in need of community support. They are still being primarily viewed as a problem which needs to be fixed. What’s worse, is that in some instances they are being seen as some type of infestation which needs to be gotten rid of – even if it means simply driving them out of town and elsewhere.

I wonder how many of the mainstream community would change their tune if they were to suddenly become homeless themselves? Would they all of sudden see themselves as being unworthy of being shown compassion? Would they welcome having folks look down upon them? Would they nod their heads in agreement when others applied the many stereotypical homeless labels to them; when others would think of them as being lazy, or drunkards, or drug addicts, or derelicts? Would they hold their heads up as folks drove past them and shouted derogatory statements at them or yelled out that they should get a job?

British Naturalist, Sir John Lubbock, is quoted as having said,

"What we see depends mainly on what we look for."

Unless we begin looking past the often times disheveled appearance of those who are homeless in our communities and begin seeing their humanity, we aren’t going to have any true measure of success at helping them get off the streets.

Each time we look at a homeless person and see only the stereotypes without the benefit of actually knowing anything about that person, we’re engaging in prejudice. And, as a result, we are doing a disservice, not only to that person, but to ourselves and to the communities in which we live.

The greatest strides at reducing homelessness will come only when we’re willing to let go of our preconceived notions of what a homeless person is. When we finally set aside the numerous synonyms and euphemisms which we come to associate with homelessness, that is when we’ll finally begin to heal our communities.

  1. Skye says:

    Everyone has a mother. Everyone has someone who loves them. Everyone started out in better circumstances before they found themselves homeless. We have more compassion for hardened criminals than we do for their victims. We have more compassion for self centered rich celebs than we do for our homeless. And yes, they are OUR homeless… part of US, part of our communities… part of our society. We, as a people are less as long as there are “lost” members among us. Seems to me we forget that “all men are created equal” and something must be done for those who can’t do for themselves before it’s too late.

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