Homelessness: Take A Closer Look

Posted: March 23, 2009 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions

Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama paid a surprise visit to Miriam’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen for the homeless, located about a mile from the White House. Obviously her visit made the headlines. Or more accurately, I should say that a gentleman with a cellphone camera made the headlines.

Not only did "journalists" raise a ruckus over that event, but many reader comments were also filled with criticism. Everybody wanted to know how could someone – who everyone assumed was homeless – afford a cellphone. It was the epitome of ignorance steeped in a "how dare he" attitude.  

I haven’t the faintest idea if the gentleman was homeless. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter. But, to read posts by the L.A. Times’ Andrew Malcolm and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, you would have thought that this man had committed the most heinous of crimes.

However, if they would have been wise enough to investigate matters a bit more closely before "opening their mouths," they might have learned a few things.

To their credit, The Washington Post decided to do a "follow-up" article about homeless persons who have cell phones.

According to the article, On D.C. Streets, the Cellphone as Lifeline, noted,

"Advocates who work with the District’s homeless estimate that 30 percent to 45 percent of the people they help have cellphones. A smaller number have e-mail accounts, and some blog to chronicle their lives on the streets."

I’m not certain why so many folks have a tendency to assume that because a person is homeless that they are technologically backward or unintelligent.

The fact of the matter is that there are quite a number of homeless who are far more intelligent and technologically knowledgeable than many housed members of the community. In addition, there are many homeless who are far more aware of what is going on in the world than some non-homeless persons I know.

Last year, during the Presidential campaigning, I heard quite a number of well thought out opinions of who would make a better President. The individual arguments were based on actual social issues – as opposed to political ideologies. The reasoning: clear and concise.

Oh, did I mention that quite a few of those opinions came out of the mouths of homeless persons – who incidentally cast their vote for the candidate of their choice?

While this may be hard for some folks to swallow: I’ve met homeless persons who have a higher sense of morality than some of the so-called "pillars of society."

I’ve also met homeless who are more compassionate, kind and caring than some folks of faith.

I know families who are homeless. Those parents care just as much about their children as housed parents care for theirs – and in some instances; even more so.

Contrary to popular belief, not every homeless person has an addiction disorder. Neither is every homeless person lazy and unwilling to work.

The hard core reality is this: every negative adjective which can applied to a homeless person, can just as easily be applied to a non-homeless person. And, every positive adjective applied to a housed member of the community can be applied to a homeless person.

I believe the reason we have failed to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities is that we have been unwilling to look beyond the stereotypes. We’ve allowed ourselves to become stuck in the rut of judging a person solely on their outer appearance; on what they have or don’t have. Moreover, we’ve forgotten that everyone – homeless or housed – is an individual.

Consequently, because there are some homeless who eschew wanting a better life, we make the assumption that every other homeless person does also.

It is those false assumptions on which we base our excuses to forego showing compassion.

In 1990, Bette Midler recorded the song: From A Distance.

Its opening line is:

"From a distance the world looks blue and green;
and the snow-capped mountains white."

The message is clear: Everything looks differently from afar than it does up close.

As long as we keep the homeless at an arms’ length from ourselves, we’ll never see the whole truth. Nor will we have an understanding of how we can potentially make a difference in the lives of our fellow man.

Do you think you know what homelessness is all about; why some folks find themselves without a place to call home?

Take a closer look.

You may very well discover that what you thought you knew about homelessness is nothing more than a false perception and not based in reality at all.

  1. I read a ton of blog posts on this event (and left several comments) – I hate that people assume that a homeless person having a cell phone is a waste of money, or that “society” is somehow paying for it. If I had a homeless relative, I might very well consider getting them a cell phone as a way of keeping in touch just as many of Respite clients’ families do. This whole episode just seemed like a dumping ground for our society’s worst feelings about the homeless.

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