In the minds of some people, the word “homeless” is synonymous with drugs, laziness, or mental illness. But these labels make up only a small portion of those who find themselves in shelters, abandoned homes, or on the street. There are those for whom drugs, mental illness, or laziness was the cause of homelessness, but these individuals still want a way out.
Hearing individuals and those in media attribute the causes of homelessness solely to the persons experiencing it breaks my heart. Statements of generalization regarding those who are homeless abound: “They want to be out on the streets.” “Homeless people are crazy, lazy, or addicted.” “They should just get a job.” “I would never end up like that because I’ve always worked hard and earned my way.” Individuals who view homelessness through this narrow lens have already justified the lack of help for those who find themselves in the grip of homelessness.
I’ve seen enough people helped out of the grip of poverty and homelessness to know that judging these individuals prematurely is a sure way to become a part of the problem and not the solution. Challenge your thinking about homelessness and the issues surrounding it.
Ponder a few things: “How do I feel when others judge me?” “If I were to find myself with nothing, how would I want to be treated?” “If I were a stranger looking at myself, what assumptions could be made about me based on the way I look?” Think about a time in your life when, if a 5-day snapshot was taken, you could easily be judged negatively and contrary to the complex individual you know yourself to be.
Have a reality check: Homelessness can happen to anyone, including you. In this age of economic upheaval, there are no guarantees. Long gone is the corporation that will always be in business, on which you can base your retirement. Stocks, bonds, and investments have proven to be susceptible to bottoming out. Do an internet search on the words “I never thought I would be homeless” (two are referenced below.) There are many different stories, and many of them do not have to do with being lazy, crazy, or drug addicted. Substance abuse can become a coping mechanism for those who have been on the streets for extended periods of time.
Be a part of the solution: Dealing with one’s prejudices regarding homelessness is the first step in becoming part of the solution. The Ark Association (www.thearkassociation.org) is one of many organizations meeting the immediate needs of homeless individuals by positioning themselves right were the most chronically homeless are. You can help raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness by educating yourself and those in your network of family, friends, and associates. Become a Citizen Philanthropist by joining organizations like Detroit4Detroit (www.detroit4detroit.org) that helps connect citizens with causes.