Have you ever wondered who it is who becomes homeless? If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, even the best of us probably have a stereotyped image somewhere in the back of our minds – an image of a crazy alcoholic, stumbling around and muttering to himself, only to stop and pass out on the nearest public bench. This is the image of homelessness that the media has imprinted on most of us, if not all of us.
Perhaps there is a reason for that. Perhaps this comic relief is a defense mechanism to diffuse the tension created by a very serious problem. But perhaps it is even more selfish than that – perhaps these foolish caricatures give us permission to ignore or even mistreat the homeless and impoverished. Perhaps, by creating a nameless, faceless, detestable stereotype, we see those in the homeless community not as human beings in need of our compassion, but as wandering imbeciles that have rightly earned our contempt, thereby relieving us of our human responsibilities to help them in their time of need. We can roll our eyes at them and walk away, and still sleep at night – because who wants to fund someone’s alcohol or drug problem, anyway?
In Hillsborough County alone, 25% of the homeless are children. Children, who should be practicing their spelling words and playing with Legos, not filching food from their classmates’ lunch trays and hiding it in their book bags so they have something to eat before they fall asleep in the back seat of a car for the night. Fully 35% of homeless individuals have a disability of some kind, and are wandering the streets, alone and in pain, because they can’t afford to see a doctor, and no employer would give them a job with such a “liability” anyway. At least 107 homeless people died on the streets, in a shelter or in their cars, no funeral, no mourners, no flowers. Maybe they were too sick, maybe they were too hungry, maybe they just lost the will to live in a world that forgot about them.
Poverty is not something that “just happens.” It is a condition created by people that can be solved by people, if we only take the time to care.