I’m not sure how many news articles about homelessness I read every week, but it’s quite a large number. Obviously, I’m reading them on the online. This means I also end up reading comments left by other folks who have read those same articles. Depending on the specific article, those comments vary in their sentiment.
For the most part, articles which mention family homelessness tend to get comments which are a bit more sympathetic. Folks read about a single mom with a couple of small children and they question why their local governments aren’t doing anything to address the issue. The same goes for stories about a Veteran who is spotlighted in some hometown newspaper. Folks are outraged that the federal government isn’t doing enough to help homeless Veterans.
On the other hand, there are those articles which mention a "tent city" in some town. Local officials, responding to complaints from private citizens, announce that they’re going to "clean up" and rid a certain area of homeless people.
Invariably, those types of articles bring out the mean-spirited comments. Folks make all manner of derogatory statements. They accuse "all the homeless" of being drunks, drug addicts, social leeches, lazy, irresponsible and other such nonsense. Some folks go so far as to make allusions to the effect that the homeless must obviously enjoy living on the streets or else they would do something to help themselves; that they’ve chosen it as a preferable lifestyle.
The other types of articles which also have a tendency of raising the ire of folks are those which mention an organization which wants to build a shelter or supportive housing for the homeless.
Comments left to those articles are perhaps more revealing of the general public’s mindset toward the homeless, than any other. They are the ones which show how little folks really understand about homelessness in their own communities – and are subsequently the most discriminatory. And, they are also the most "whiney."
Inevitably someone mentions that they don’t want their hard earned tax dollars going to help "… support those people." Their feeling is that the homeless should get jobs straightaway and stop being a drain on society. As for the building of the shelter or supportive housing, they think it might be a good idea – providing, of course, that it isn’t in their own neighborhoods.
What is the most disheartening about these types of comments is that should there be someone who speaks out on behalf of the homeless; one of the previous readers will feel compelled to leave an additional comment belittling that person; telling them that they have no understanding of the situation.
One other type of comment I come across from time to time are from folks who believe that everything humanly possible is being done to help the homeless. They point out that there are one or more shelters in their town which will give the homeless a bed if they want. In addition, they often mention that those homeless who do end up sleeping on the streets do so because they don’t want to "… follow the shelter rules."
I find these types of comments peculiar, because often times the news articles happen to mention that there are more homeless in the area than there are available shelter beds. As a result folks are turned away for lack of resources. Yet, the folks who left the comments have somehow managed to not have read that part.
I have to admit, there are times when I’m tempted to leave a reply to some of the comments I read. I seldom do because it seems to me that those folks have already decided they’re right and everyone else is wrong. Consequently, they are unwilling to entertain any other possibility than their own opinions. It’s a no-win situation.
In the end, I usually sigh, exit the page and go on to the next article.
It seems strange to me that folks want homelessness in their communities to be addressed, yet most folks don’t seem to be willing to become a part of the solution. They are too readily content to "… let someone else worry about it."
In December 1993, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen wrote in the New York Times:
"More than a decade after our fellow citizens began bedding down on the sidewalks, their problems continue to seem so intractable that we have begun to do psychologically what government has been incapable of doing programmatically. We bring the numbers down – not by solving the problem, but by deciding it’s their own damn fault."
I wonder what she might say today if she’d read some of the comments I’ve been reading lately?
Although to tell you the truth, what she wrote over 15 years ago still seems to hit the nail right on the head.