In today’s world of mass media, we are treated to views of the mess of the 2016 presidential election, new revamps of old, beloved TV shows and new, exciting products that promise to shed those pesky pounds that just don’t seem to come off. However, we are often forgetful of the problem that rules the streets of our urban cities — homelessness.
According to MSNBC, there are 60,000 homeless people in New York City alone. During this election cycle, we are debating the welfare system, systematic racism in the workforce and the perpetuation of money floating to the top percentage of people in the United States. However, we must remember the faces that suffer the most in these times.
A big issue with the homelessness problem is the poor state of shelter in this country. MSNBC released a profound article that gives readers the inside scoop of the life of a homeless citizen. The friend we shadow in the piece, Marvin, is a 61-year-old man with a long-stemming history on the streets. He also “willingly acknowledges that his decision to get involved with drugs is the biggest reason he no longer has a home.” There’s a sad problem with this story at first glance — the stigma toward addiction and a lack of proper resources to help those affected in this country. The 2016 election has begun to hint at a drive for reform for the cause, but drastic action needs to be taken to inform the public.
However, the big lack of sympathy toward homeless people, which stems mainly from the stigma that all are drug or alcohol addicts, is a false generalization. Using this excuse to not do anything to help the fight to end homelessness is a faulty, selfish argument. Helping out at a soup kitchen or shelter is not going to exacerbate the problem of addiction, but will help solve the problem.
To a new point, what is the source of our “privilege” to say we shouldn’t give to a homeless person because they will spend it on drugs or alcohol? In a poignant 2012 article in The Guardian, formerly homeless author and charity founder Mark Johnson makes the point that “it’s none of your business where an addict is on his journey. If your money funds his final hit, accept that the person would rather be dead. If your act of kindness makes him wake up the next morning and change his life, that’s nice, but not your business either.”
He has a point. Hopefully your gift of money to a displaced person is not given out of the selfish desire to feel as if you did something extraordinary to help someone. Yes, it’s a kind act, but when giving to give, you should expect nothing in return but the gratifying sensation of doing the right thing. What they do with the money you decided to fork over yourself should be none of your beeswax. If you are so concerned about where your money is going, why not go help out at a shelter where help is needed year-round, and not on just the major holidays?
On the subject of homeless shelters, let’s go back to our friend Marvin. He says he avoids shelters because “he thinks they’re unsafe and unhealthy.” He is not alone in this opinion — let’s turn to an NPR interview with David Pirtle, a formerly homeless man who turned to the streets because of untreated schizophrenia that caused him to lose his job. Pirtle says he “found out that a lot of what [he] was afraid of was true. [He] never found out what a body louse was until [he] got into a shelter.”
There are countless other stories of shelters that treated their tenants so poorly that many chose to roam the streets instead. What does this say about the lack of compassion or understanding of the struggles of displaced people?
There are so many factors of being homeless that we simply cannot understand unless we are put in the situation. Homeless people face a lack of care from the shelters, which are made to simply give them a warm place to stay. They face judgment from people who are more privileged than they are. They face a systematic cycle of homelessness that results from a lack of easily accessible treatment for mental illness and addiction. Will our schools, our media or our government take steps to help people comprehend the struggle of homelessness in today’s world? If not, we must individually step up and realize that the only way we should interfere into another’s life is to help them live the life that they want to live.