On September 5, 2018, I attended the forum for City Council candidates in the upcoming city election. One of the questions for the candidates was, “What do you see as one of the significant problems the city is facing and what do you hope to do about it?”
A significant number of candidates identified the homeless as a problem and offered that they did not know what to do about them. Because of the nature of homelessness the solution is not easy.
Homelessness is a circumstance of life no one is ever really ready for. No one ever said, “My goal in life is to be homeless.” Nor has anyone responded to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “I want to be homeless, broke, and disdained by society.” When we see human beings as a problem – we become the problem because we are using ourselves as the model for others to live up to. I have noticed we seem to have more compassion for a homeless cat or dog than we do for our fellow humans who are experiencing a homeless event.
Homelessness is a very difficult thing to confront because it has so many causes. People suggest that there is a lack of affordable housing. Others suggest there is a lack of jobs providing a living wage. One could also suggest that burdensome taxation results in homelessness – or any other myriad of reasons. When an individual has to choose between medicine, food, or housing – people choose to try to make it by living in the woods or under a bridge. Food and life-sustaining medicines are essential. Tents or shacks are not adequate housing, but provide for the immediate protection against the elements and is thought to be appropriate for a short period of time. No one thinks homelessness is forever.
Perspective is another part to the issue of homelessness. Although it has been said perception is 90% reality … our perceptions are not always right. When the homeless are perceived as a problem we become convinced – they are the problem. Are they the problem? And if they are, why are they the problem? Is it because they use the library or enter a store? Is it that they have a strong odor because they lack bathing and clothes-washing facilities? Is it because they walk our streets? Let me note: I have never been able to distinguish homeless people just because they are walking the street. In fact, one of the city council candidates stated that he was pedestrian. One of our sitting city council members walks downtown, has he been mistaken for a homeless person?
Does carrying a backpack classify a person as homeless or a college student? Is a homeless person addicted to drugs or alcohol before the homeless event or does addiction develop as a way of dealing with the hardships of being homeless? These questions illustrate our perceptions and the folly of them.
No one single answer will address the homeless issue or our perceptions. I would like to note that these same perceptions are foisted on many nationalities living in America and that is what we call prejudice.
People make choices and must live with consequences of those choices. Unless homeless people or drug addicts want help we cannot help them. It is a choice they make and they have to choose to change. Why should homeless people want to change when all of our actions towards them speak of the disdain we have for them?
Let me state, we have the same goal as the city council and many people in our community has – we do not want people to live on the street. Our approaches may differ but our goal is unified. We must help those people who are in dire circumstances to be lifted out of them. Compassion requires action… Union Mission is acting on their behalf.
Pastor George Batten