A woman recently wrote on Facebook that she was interested in learning more about the homeless population.
We, in America, rarely express interest in “the other.”
We already know everything we need to know. They aren’t us. They are living wrong. And mostly, they’re gross.
This was the entire premise of the whole “separate but equal” laws of the United States. These were actual constitutional laws that said as long as everything was “equal” then they can and should be separate.
Basically, the premise is: I should not have to use anything a black person uses.
This aversion to people who don’t look like us is, of course, based on nothing. The color of their skin has nothing to do with disease or hygiene.
American government has a long history of not being particularly bright about these kinds of things.
I think most Americans have seen the error of that kind of thinking.
However, in 2018 we still have headlines like this: Police tackled me for stealing a car. It was my own. – Chicago Tribune
To think that we have fully understood the difference between races is naive. While we currently have class work to do these days, our work on race is far from over.
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Our understanding of homeless people is brand new. Most people know very little of this section of the population. While I am now a huge fan and supporter of homeless people, it wasn’t very long ago that I was surprised to learn that most homeless people can read, write, use computers and talk in complete and grammatically correct sentences.
I’ve had government officials utter the words, “Let’s be honest, no one wants to live next to homeless people.”
I’ve had a government official publicly berate me for not being fair to my neighbors because homeless people are walking around my property.
I’ve had church leaders tell me that “these people” need to put down the needle and get a job.
These are sentiments of a completely ignorant and base-level bigotry.
When people feel comfortable saying these things publicly it means we have SO far to go to develop even a basic understanding of people living in our society.
Further, we need to understand these people because homelessness is only getting worse. There is no political will with even the most liberal politicians to have any interest in a population that has no money and doesn’t vote. Even Bernie Sanders is mostly focused on the “working class.”
You can see it this very week:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture office, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has seen its staff cut by 95 percent this week, according to the USDA.
The extremely poor and the homeless have very few advocates. So, it’s easy to sweep them under the rug.
When you add that these people are villainized then it gets even easier to disregard them and scorn them.
They are lazy, no good drains on society.
The question is: how true is it that these people are what we think they are? Are they just lazy drug addicts?
Let’s talk about the lazy idea.
If you think a homeless person is lazy then you simply don’t understand what being homeless is.
You take a shower once a week because it requires you to walk 3 miles and stand in line at a facility. Taking a shower will take you half a day.
You wash your clothes once a month. This requires that you bag up as many clothes as you can carry on your back and walk them for miles to a facility where you can wash them. It will take most of the day.
But in the meantime you have to walk miles to get to a meal for the day. Laundry, shower and food are rarely, if ever, in the same location.
You have to hide your belongings as best you can because people will steal them for no other reason than just to steal them. Leaving your camp is a major risk.
Your things often and regularly are stolen.
On top of this you often have a mental and/or physical disability. You were injured at work. You are diagnosed with anxiety, depression and bipolar. Your medication got stolen. You don’t have a phone.
A homeless person is in a constant battle with their surroundings. Everything is extremely hard.
On top of that, people won’t look at you. If you beg for money you are sure to get yelled at.
You already feel like a total loser. Fellow citizens will gladly remind you that they agree with you. You do, indeed, suck. Either get a job or disappear.
On getting a job.
Have you ever tried to rely on the bus system here in Akron?
I’d probably rate it a “C”. (Having a bus system probably gives us a “C” just for existing.)
Buses come every half hour to an hour. Typically, a bus will take you to the transit center where you pick up another bus. A trip that might take 20 minutes in a car could easily take 2 hours on a bus on a schedule that is not very regular. I regularly see people losing jobs because a bus was late or didn’t run during the hours of their job. Being late by 15 minutes in America today is pretty much a guarantee you will get fired. Employers have no loyalty or commitment to the people any more.
A one way bus pass costs $1.25 but does not include a transfer. So you really need to get a day pass for $2.50.
If you recall what I said about all the things you need to do just to survive then trying to get money for a bus pass is incredibly hard.
People do give out bus passes. In fact, a donor give me a stack of bus passes just recently. I might as well have been handing out crack cocaine. They are like gold. If you want to give something to panhandlers (and break the law in certain Summit County townships for illegally handing something out your window) bus passes are usually a welcome contribution.
Learned Helplessness and Psychogenic Death.
These are two very important real psychological conditions that plague the homeless population.
Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation.
“Psychogenic death is real,” says University of Portsmouth researcher John Leach in a related statement. “It isn’t suicide, it isn’t linked to depression, but the act of giving up on life and dying usually within days, is a very real condition often linked to severe trauma.”
I see these every day. I’ve had multiple people over the years come to me saying they came to our village to kill themselves.
I see it in the form of a complete lack of human dignity. The system and society strips them of human dignity. The shelter system is a place where you are looked down on and disrespected. The street is a place where you spend all day thinking about what a failure you are.
Are the homeless dangerous?
I spend every day with these people. I never feel unsafe. If anything they help me feel more brave. These are not victims. These are survivalists. They have taught me strength.
Yes. They sometimes yell. Impulse control is something you lose on the street and were likely not taught at home. But they often apologize for yelling. They create these walls to protect themselves emotionally. I’ve been learning this skill as well. You simply can’t take all the cruelty and disparagement these people encounter without defense mechanisms.
This entire topic deserves thorough study. I’ve often wished sociologists would spend time with us to better understand this section of humanity. They are incredibly interesting.
But what I want you to know is this: they are not less than you or me. They have a certain wildness to them that comes from being thrown out of the social system. So, if get to know them you will experience that they do behave and act slightly differently than a regular middle class person. That doesn’t make them inferior. That just makes them different. And, if we’d learn about their differences, we could very likely find places in society where they could thrive. But until we learn about them we will never be able to work with them.
People will often say things like, “they want to be homeless.” This is incorrect. They just don’t have a path back into society that meets their needs. Society doesn’t yet care about them and their needs. So it’s our way or the highway. That’s why our tent village got shut down by the government. The government doesn’t have even the slightest curiosity why a group of people would prefer living in tents than living in a shelter.
Until we can convince our government to ask the utterly basic question of “why do people choose to live in tents?” we will never help integrate these people back into society. They will live unserviced in the wilderness. Hepatitis A outbreaks will occur nationwide, they will defecate in our stairwells, they will leave needles on the sidewalk, they will throw trash anywhere, they will steal food from grocery stores.
You don’t have to be a compassionate person to want to help the homeless of your city. When you engage homeless people where they are today in the way they want to be engaged you are helping your entire city.
The fact that government officials are so myopic and close-minded that they can’t see this is utterly confounding and short-sighted. Do you want to make your city a place people want to move to? Then help your homeless population!