I have had many people tell me in my short life that I look “homeless”. This is probably due to my often unkempt beard and lack of care for a clothing style or appearance and is probably said in order to make feel guilty for the way I look. It is a sort of small insult. But, this saying doesn’t make sense. The word homeless aside from all preconceived connotations means “without a home”. It does not mean: smelly dude with a long beard and hand-me-down clothing. Yet, within society today, this is exactly what it has come to mean. Those who do live out on the streets, yes, without a home, are treated like a different breed. “The homeless” are people to keep your kids away from. They smell. They look terrible. They are a detriment to society. This characterization dehumanizes those who do live on the streets.
Any time a person is no longer viewed as an individual and becomes one of “those people”, we have a huge discrimination problem. We begin to treat them with an otherness that goes against what most people preach. Even our humanitarian efforts bring forth this otherness. Let’s go “feed the homeless” is a popular deed that we do when we want to be helpful. In our philanthropic efforts there remains a divide between the helper and helped. The homeless are a body of people who remain faceless, nameless, and storyless. Their identity is wrapped up in not having a home, rather than who they are, what they’ve done, and their potential for humanness.(NOTE: This does not include those actively involved within homeless organizations)
I understand that there is a dark side to all of this. There are those who are forced to live on the streets due to addictions, mental illnesses, and other conditions that might cause them to act in dangerous manners. Those who are not suffering from things such as these may also be forced to act in ways that they otherwise would not due to the burdens and stresses they face from poverty. Morality isn’t as clear cut when you’re cold, starving, and trying to provide for 2 kids. However, most of the time where a homeless individual may act out in violence are due to circumstances for which they did not receive enough support prior to homelessness. Most homeless individuals are not criminals, but have been forced to act out because of the situation they find themselves in.
When problems are bureaucratized, it makes it easy to find one-size-fits-all solutions for them. It is easy to go out, do one’s duty, and leave having “fed the homeless” without seeing Fred or Jill or whoever for who they really are. Homeless means without a home. It is an adjective not a noun. It is a word that should not define anyone. Human beings are human beings, whether or not they have a home; and each human deserves the opportunity to be heard and not just seen, to be listened to and not just talked at, to receive love as well as give it.