2/22/2006

 

Homeless. Hungry. God Bless.

Saw a fellow homeless person from the bus yesterday while en route to work. She was standing on the corner of West Wendover and Bridford Parkway. Although her back was to me, I'd seen that stance before and the way she seemed to be scanning the nearby line of cars suggested that she wasn't waiting to cross the street (a risky proposition on Wendover, in any case). She was carrying one of those cardboard signs.

Homeless. Hungry. God bless. Or some variant of the message thereof.

I couldn't help but be struck by the differences between us (other than gender and ethnicity, of course). She was passively working a street corner, depending solely on what spare change or food passing drivers would be willing to share and trusting that she'd have something to show for it at the end of the day besides a collection of obscene gestures and insults. I was on a public transport, actively headed to a job that, while it pays next to nothing, had a regular payday and some benefits.

But more importantly, unlike the woman on the corner, I wasn't feeding a stereotype.

With her sign, she was buying into (and causing others viewing her to buy into) a perception that the homeless are all panhandlers who just want to stand around doing nothing instead of working or otherwise trying to better their position. That we're all lazy, or on drugs/alcohol, or are otherwise, as Ronald Reagan so succinctly put it, "homeless by choice".

And once you feed a stereotype, you give it a strength that it doesn't deserve, and that strength invariably leads to negative perceptions. I can't imagine why anybody, homeless or otherwise, would want to aid a negative perception of themselves.

I'm certainly in no position to judge this woman. I have my survival strategy, she has hers. Maybe hers works better for her than mine does for me. I don't know. What I do know is that I've chosen not to feed the stereotype. I've decided that I'm better off not standing around passively on the street corner, or sleeping in the library, or hitting strangers up for change. I'm better off doing what I've always done: go to work, raise my kids, try to make tomorrow an increment better than today.

To do otherwise, to stand still holding a cardboard sign, is to do myself and other homeless people a massive disservice.

Comments:
I think your emphasis on the "stereotype" is a bit harsh. I have no idea how things work in Greensboro, but I would have thought you having kids in your situation would have put you on a higher priority in any program than a single lady.
 
I agree but I can't pass judgement. A person's life is so complex and long (if they don't give up), I can't assume anything about them (sign or not). I could guess or I could give them $.50. Sometimes I do, sometimes not.

I would like to visit the big cities of the world to compare (for myself) the living conditions. Even though America is a money-driven rat-race, I'll pre-guess that I'd find similar problems everywhere (some worse, some better). I'm no expert, which is why I'd want to see it for myself ... even if I walked away with an inaccurate summary in my mind.
 
Interesting thinking, danneh... which influencing factor helped formulate your opinion? If it was you in the same situation, what would it take for you to be ok with getting a lower priority over somebody else? The reason I ask is that I'm wondering if you would have posted at all if it was revealed that the single lady was really sick or if she's been waiting for 5 years and she's FINALLY next in line. What if she was just as successful as he was and became homeless a day before he did? I think your "stereotype" of a Family of 4 should take precedence over a single woman is a bit harsh, don't you think?

I'm not being mean or trying to "stir up the pot", I just want to understand your viewpoint.
 
Hello,

it seems that it is not just the US media who talk about you.

Today I've read an article about you on the Web site of one of 2 most widely read newspapers in Italy. And that's how I actually got here.

http://www.corriere.it/Primo_Piano/Scienze_e_Tecnologie/2006/03_Marzo/01/clochard.shtml

I think you are doing a great thing by writing this blog. You are right: may people stereotype, massively.

I have a feeling that stereotypes about the homeless, sometimes nasty stereotypes, are a way for some people to cope with a hidden sense of guilt: for accepting the "system", blithely and turning one eye (or both eyes) blind on its evils; for accepting a lie, that of a televised optimism (forced since birth) which wipes away the true perception of what life is really like for thousands and thousands of people.

To what extent do the hardships of the homeless, or of those who don't have health insurance (46,000,000) reach the perception of the (often temporarily) lucky ones? And why do society's viewpoints appear to identify incessantly with a polished Leave-it-to-Beaver-like image of people, while vast portions of society have hard time to make ends meet?

There is no proportion between televised optimism (and thus people's perception) and real life.

There is something intrinsically wrong in the way people are portrayed by media. Very large portions of the population have problems, some bigger than others, but that hardly emerges in the media.

Of course the news must keep the ad buyers happy I suppose.... but this is only one side of the coin, probably not the most important either....there are are reasons too....

All the best,
Joe


[P.s.: I hope I have not posted this twice. My computer was acting up.]
 
strategy is the appropriate word. HA!
Do you know how useful this Internet thing is to us 'dispossessed'? I mean I see so many adults in the public libraries using it as a resource, young persons like myself also, its incredible. you can ascertain aspects of a person financial capability by looking over their shoulder at the web pages they look at and sites they visit. Is it housing action committees, food pantries, second hand clothing stores, or job sites. I m telling you Cyb., there are people out there who fit the criteria of the dispossessed but actually are not homeless because their is a roof over their head when they go to sleep. Funny.
 
I really think that if people have enough drive they can get out and find a job, like you have. I live in Corpus Christi, Texas, and I do not go a day without seeing a new homeless person holding a sign and flagging me down for money.

I notice a lot of people taking a whack at the fact that the woman is part of an unkown. I find it interesting how they are contrasting the situation so harshly, because there is a large portion of homless people who may be in the same position as you but do not go out and get a job. The stereotype falls into place regardless of their family situation, and I really think that it is up to the individual. There are tons of jobs available, but a person has to decide how low they are willing to go before they will just stand at the corner with the sign flagging down cars for money.
 
Regarding joe-london's observation, don't forget that the lazier elements of the media focus on what they're familiar with. Homelessness doesn't directly affect the day-to-day lives of many in the media, and so it may get underreported as a result.

Any news organization that bows down to the whims of its ad buyers, though, is inherently corrupt and worthless.
 
Krupo: "Any news organization that bows down to the whims of its ad buyers, though, is inherently corrupt and worthless."

I agree. And it is a fact that many media services have not only followed the whims of ad buyers, but also those of some 'compassionate conservatives' (*cough*). How's that as for corruption and worthlessness?

Mine is not an original opinion but, really, news providers - a large part of them - have turned into a worthless infotainment, self-indulgent, industry, fearful and servile. Loudspeakes of the fabricators of reality. Fortunately not all of them, one should look around. For instance, I dare say you will find more a more genuine and professional approach on the Guardian.co.uk rather than fox.com.
 
Downsizing, outsourcing, too many illegal immigrants working "under the table" saves companies tax dollars, affordable housing, affordable health and dental care, all contribute to homelessness. Can you imagine being older and in ill health, competing with younger, stronger people for the few available jobs.

Know a few "homed" and many homeless that make a nice piece of spare change by "signing". Begging is humilitating, but in a desperate situation, people do desperate things.
 
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