Like many others who blog about homelessness, I use the Internet to monitor the news media for stories and articles about homelessness. I also read what other bloggers have to say about homelessness. One of those sites is the "End Homelessness" blog on the Change.org website.
Yesterday, the blog’s chief author and administrator, Shannon Moriarty, published a post titled: The Tragedy of Indifference.
The post outlined a story she’d read in The Detroit News – a story which, as she wrote:
"Every now and again when I’m scouring the web, I’ll come across something that stops me in my tracks. Something that makes me sick to my stomach – literally. Something that bothers me so deeply I think about it for days."
After reading her post I, too, felt sick to my stomach. The sadness I felt was so overwhelming I wanted to power down my computer, crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and pray for the oblivion of sleep. Instead, I found myself sitting and staring at nothing in particular.
Finally, when I was able to regain my composure, I began going through my list of RSS news feeds. One of them was from the KABC-TV website. And once again, I began to feel a sinking in the pit of my stomach.
The video report, Homeless man beat on tape, no one helps, told of a homeless man in Washington D.C. who had been assaulted. The entire incident had been caught on tape by a surveillance camera.
As I watched the report, I could see the homeless man being punched and knocked to the ground. I then saw him get up, only to be assaulted and knocked down again. When he fell the second time, however, his head struck the rear bumper of a minivan – and he did not get back up.
There was something else which was quite noticeable in the video. It was, as Shannon had so aptly termed it: The Tragedy of Indifference.
Passersby ignored him. There were folks near a building, just standing and looking. Some people walking actually just stepped over him as they went their way. But no one did anything to help. It was nineteen minutes before someone placed a call to 911.
Straightaway, words Shannon had written in her post came flooding back into my mind:
"See, I know this is a story about the tragic fate of one man in Detroit. But I think it’s more than that. It’s an analogy for the mindset of so many people when it comes to homelessness. They are indifferent. They couldn’t be bothered by somebody else’s misery, somebody else’s pain."
With the exception of her mention of Detroit, her words could have just as easily been applied to what had happened to that homeless man in Washington D.C. and the indifference of those who had witnessed the incident.
The question I find myself asking is: what is it which causes us to be indifferent to the homeless?
As a nation, we talk about the need to protect everyone’s human rights. We make allusions for the need of equality. We even go so far as to advocate for the humane treatment of animals. Yet, when it comes to our nation’s homeless, we seem to find it so easy to dismiss them as less deserving than the rest of us.
What seems so paradoxical to me is that we expect the homeless to simply pick themselves up by their bootstraps and become productive members of society. However, we have placed societal roadblocks in their paths. We’ve done this by attaching stigmas and stereotypes to the condition. This, in turn, gives us an excuse to disregard them; gives us a means to justify ignoring their plight.
I’ll be the first to agree that the homeless need to put forth an effort to make their lives better. But we, as a society, must also be willing to offer them genuine assistance. We cannot simply stand indifferently on the sidelines with our hands in our pockets.
Finding effective means to remedy homelessness in our nation is both a simple and complex task: simple because compassion is a human trait; complex because prejudice and indifference are also human traits.
I hope and pray for a time when we begin to view our nation’s homeless as people who deserve our compassion because, to quote J.K. Rowling,
"Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike."