Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who's Homeless?

I've been doing a lot of exploring lately. I explore a lot when ever I get to a new city, but I feel like I've been exploring San Francisco more than the other cities. As other cities, depending on where you are you may or may not notice the homeless population. That is the noticeable homeless population. We (myself included when I was planning this expedition) have an idea in our head of what a homeless person should look, smell, and act like. Our civilization tends to try to hide any problem or less desirable aspect of our population and poverty and homelessness is definitely one of those things we sweep under the rug. It's easy in any city to find the areas that are "homeless friendly" and those that aren't. Just follow the tourists. This is not to say that there won't be any homeless people where there's tourists. There are just much less. The panhandlers and musicians will be in those places, but honestly, how many of them are really homeless? It's hard to know for sure.

Back to my point, when I started this project I had an idea of what a homeless person looks like and so I said, "I will not shave or cut my hair while I'm away." And as a result, I've got crazy man hair and an out of control beard. Just like a good homeless man, right? The reality is, no. As I sit and eat at whatever shelter I'm in and look around I see more clean cut men than wild mountain man looking men. My beard and wild hair are a vast minority among my peers. Is this a good bye to my hair. No. I made a commitment, and I intend to keep it. I'm just trying to set things straight.

I've talked to more homeless people in San Francisco than anywhere else who have a cell phone, a computer, a portable DVD player, and things like that that we don't think about when we think of homeless people. You can't look at a person and decide that they are not homeless because their clothes are nice, they have a pleasing hairdo or oder. I shower much less now than when I had a home, but I'm not dirty. In fact, I was talking to someone I worked with in Portland, for those 4 days I worked who showers about as often as I do, and he has a home and a steady job, and doesn't look at all dirty, and he doesn't stink. We tend to think homeless and gross at the same time. Is it because the people we can tell are homeless are urine soaked or just threw up on themselves? Probably.

It's time we take the stereotype of what a homeless person is and why they're homeless and be educated about it. The fact of the matter is that right now in America there are more homeless people than ever. These are people who used to be our neighbors who, because of the current economy in the United States, have become victims of downsizing. They aren't lazy and out of work. In fact, many of them do work. Think for a moment of where you would go if you suddenly lost your job. Do you have the safety net of a large enough savings to last you three months? Six months? A year? Now consider that the only job you can find pays much less than you're used to. Would you be able to keep your house? Would you have enough to have an apartment; even a small one? Now consider (if it's not your reality) that you have children to take care of, too. In most cities you can't find a two bedroom apartment for less than $800 a month. Now consider that the only job you can find is at a fast food restaurant. Speaking from experience, you'll be lucky to make enough to cover rent.

Yes, there are government programs to help you, but the more you make the less you get and it's still possibly not enough to make ends meet. So, now I ask you, "Where would you be living if this were your reality?"

The homeless people in America aren't all drug or alcohol addicts. They are not all just too lazy to work. They are not just degenerates. Many of them are just like you.

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