Reading other blogs about homelessness is a curious thing. There are blogs by those who are or have been homeless, those who work or volunteer with a homeless clientele, and blogs about other topics that mention homelessness once in a while (typically when the author has an encounter with a homeless person).
The most frequently commented upon blog articles seem to be those about an individual’s first night of homelessness. I admit, I frequently leave comments on these articles myself.
Why is it that we’re so sympathetic to the person who experiences their first day of homelessness, but callous toward the person who has been homeless for months or years? It’s a matter of perspective. The person spending a stray night in a homeless shelter could well be us, we think.
What if we lost our jobs and had a concurrent major illness? What if a loved one (or ones) passed away suddenly? What if . . . whatever combination of tragedies it might take. I think we’ve all had thoughts that it could be us. For some it might take more tragedies than others, but the possibility is there.
In considering the chronically homeless person, we’re less sympathetic. Why? Because we believe we cannot sink to that level. We would pull ourselves out or find help somehow.
We may be able to make the leap to understanding who someone (even ourselves) can become homeless, but we believe that if you’re homeless for more than a few weeks, well, you must just be lazy. Or ignorant. Or an addict. Why don’t they just get jobs after all? Or just apply for the loads of benefits we finance through our taxes? Or get social security?
We fail to consider the psychological effects of life on the streets. It takes many of our clients several days to warm up to staff at the Respite and our mission is to help them. Imagine how difficult they find it to reconnect with family and friends.
And all those “free benefits”? True, they’re out there. But how long can you afford to wait? It can take weeks to qualify for food stamps, months to gain tenant-based rental assistance, and years to be awarded social security disability.
As for employment, would you hire someone who admitted to being homeless? How about someone who claimed to have stable housing, but was mysteriously never home when you called? Would you hire someone with dirty fingernails or ragged clothing? Maybe you would. Then again, maybe you’d prefer to hire the clean-cut teenager who made the honor roll last quarter.
Are we really as impervious as we believe? Or is the hard truth that homelessness, once it happens, can be nearly impossible to escape? How many of these truths do we ignore because they are simply too frightening to accept?
The ultimate truth is surely more complex, but everytime I read comment-loaded articles about an individual’s first terrifying night as a homeless person, I wonder.
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