A Little Respect for the Homeless

by Tony Chavira

What kind of sadistic divide has our society endured to incite our police to pepper-spray the peaceful and our commonfolk to do things like this to our most downtrodden:

Two Charleston men have admitted to beating a homeless, wheelchair-bound man earlier this year during a feud that started over an accusation of stolen cigarettes. [...]

"We got into a fight," Burdette told the judge at his plea hearing Monday. "I knocked him out."

Nevermind that it was only an accusation, nevermind that a great deal of mentally-ill people are homeless, and nevermind that its something that seems to come up more and more often in our news. It's almost as if attackers are trying to vent their societal frustrations onto those who've already be affected by the worst pain our society can muster (instead of those who have inflicted that pain). Somewhere along the line, angry people in America seemed to have forgotten that homeless people are 1) still people and 2) victims of a society that finds new ways to beat them down every day.

Enter this guy, as interviewed by NPR:

John Harrison is one of those speakers. With his ruddy good looks, salt-and-pepper hair, khakis and white button-down shirt, he looks like someone who might spend a lot of time relaxing on a sailboat. Instead, he's still struggling to get back on his feet after years of homelessness.[...]

Harrison's message is clear: Almost anyone can become homeless, and people should be nice to those who are homeless.

"Seemed like all of a sudden, people walked by me like I wasn't even there," Harrison tells the group. [...]

He lost his job in a merger. He didn't have a college degree, so he had trouble finding another job. Then, his house burned down. He didn't have insurance, so he lived in a shed behind a friend's house for awhile. Then he lived in his car, until that broke down. Suddenly, he found himself without a home.

Harrison says it was the kindness of others that helped him survive.

"People ... reached out to me with genuine concern and said, 'Hey, how are you doing?' and meant it," he says. "You know, we don't have to empty our pockets every time we see a homeless person. But to offer a word of cheerful encouragement, instead of a hurtful comment — how hard is that?"

Very, apparently. In fact, the city of New York is now not going to take homeless people at their word. A lawsuit has just been allowed that will actually turn adults away from homeless shelters unless they can provide proof of their homelessness. Like, I dunno, a laminated card or two halves of a deed or something. Here are comments for the two city camps:

NY Council Speaker Christine Quinn has denounced the policy as "cruel" and "irresponsible."

The homeless department's commissioner, Seth Diamond, said Monday that the policy is fair.

Yup, the homeless department's commissioner. But to whom is this policy fair? Certainly not to the mentally-ill or chronically homeless, who wouldn't have 1 form of ID on them if it meant life or death. And who would bother pretending to be homeless (and around potentially mentally-ill homeless people) in order to stay in a shelter--especially an emergency shelter. This is exactly the kind of foundationally disrespectful attitude people have for the homeless today.

In the 1930s, New York bent over backwards to provide housing for its poorest denizens. Today, you can get beat on the street by a disenfrancihised idiot or you can stand in front of a shelter and hope that crying and begging will get you out of the cold for the night.


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