Good Moral Character Isn’t Always The Best Dressed

Posted: October 23, 2009 in Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Money, Morality

It’s a disappointment to me when some folks automatically assume that because a person is homeless that they are not a "nice or good person."

I’m well aware that we are a visually oriented society, and therefore, have a tendency to take our preliminary "cues" based on how a person is dressed. If they look neat and tidy, we equate that with "wholesomeness." And, if they are a bit disheveled, we equate that with un-wholesomeness.

Unfortunately, due to their "residential status," our nation’s homeless aren’t always the best dressed. Consequently, we seldom take – or make – the time to base our opinion of any specific homeless person based on their personal character. Furthermore, quite often we go out of our way to avoid interacting with a homeless person – and, all because of their appearance.  

What it comes down to is this: despite knowing better, we continue to judge a book by its cover.

Let me give you two examples of the "clothes not making the man."

In Pennsylvania last week, the town of Brookville offered to pay the First Apostles’ Doctrine Church the tidy sum of $100,000 to settle a lawsuit.

The New York Times reported that the town had tried to "shut down" the church’s Just for Jesus shelter.

Brookville officials asserted that the church was operating a "group home" – something which is banned by the town’s zoning laws.

The church, on the other hand, claimed that the town was violating its religious freedoms by prohibiting them from operating the shelter.

The back and forth bantering came to a head when "… a zoning inspector and borough police officers broke into the church by crawling through a window after church officials denied them entry to conduct an inspection."

I’m not going to argue whether or not the church was within its rights to deny town officials entry to make the inspection.

I don’t know enough about local ordinances in Brookville. That disqualifies me from passing judgment regarding that issue.

However, unless the zoning inspector and the law enforcement official had a valid search warrant – or some other type of court order – it was the both of them who were engaged in "criminal behavior."

In contrast to the actions of Brookville’s two town officials, is that of a homeless man in East Lansing, Michigan.

He is known to local police there only as "John."

On Monday, John found some money near a parking lot in the city’s business district.

Although the news report from the Lansing State Journal doesn’t state specifically the amount, it did refer to it as: "… a large amount of cash."

Imagine, if you will, being homeless and suddenly finding a large sum of money on a public street.

If it were substantial enough, it could conceivably go a long way toward helping you get off the streets. Or, at the very least, it could provide a temporary respite and get you into a motel room for a couple of weeks or more.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine the temptation to shove the money into your pocket and get out of the area just as quickly as possible.

Well, that’s what John did. He left the area and headed straight to the East Lansing Police Department, where he turned in the money.

Not exactly the type of behavior that some folks would expect of a homeless person, is it?

And before someone is foolish enough to imply that John’s actions were atypical of the homeless, let me say this: I know quite a number of homeless folks. And most of them would have done exactly what John did.

John may be a homeless person. But, it seems to me by his actions he behaved in a far more socially responsible manner than did Brookville’s two officials.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.


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