DARE TO ASK: To ignore or to 'see' homeless
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why don't people view the homeless as "real" people? I was homeless by choice
for years, and the rudeness I had to deal with was insane. I would try to ask
the time and be told, "No, I don't have any."
Margaret M., 21, Greensboro, N.C.
I've always viewed the homeless as human beings and nothing less. But many
people feel the world revolves around them or that they are better than everyone
else. It hurts me to see people homeless, whether by choice or not.
Jes, 20, female, Morgantown, Pa.
Anxious to get away from possibly being accosted or verbally assaulted, most
people tend to be curt out of fear.
Frank, 56, Fort Lauderdale
Ninety-nine times out of 100, when a homeless person approaches me, it's to
beg for money. They usually smell bad and may be dirty. They also have higher
rates of such diseases as tuberculosis. They are more likely to be mentally ill.
Having worked in a homeless shelter, I've learned the majority are able-bodied
and have chosen a life of substance abuse over self-reliance. Most are out to
manipulate the system to get everything they can without being responsible.
People realize this and resent them. We're trying to have a society here!
Rick, Springfield, Ohio
Imagine what this world would be like if everyone treated others with love
and respect, regardless of their fortunes or misfortunes, cultural differences
Pam, Greenville, Miss.
Most people who fear the homeless are harboring a stereotype and should get
to know them, says Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National
Coalition for the Homeless. Besides, giving a homeless person a buck won't upset
the fragile socioeconomic balance of our culture.
"Giving directly to the homeless keeps us in touch with the fact that not
everyone is doing well," he said. "We're not talking about giving a couple
hundred dollars to someone who's going to go buy a 40-ouncer. How can you get
yourself in trouble with a dollar?"
Still, the most common public reaction is to ignore the homeless, Stoops
"When someone walks by and doesn't acknowledge your existence, it's a form of
existential blindness. The person knows that could be them, but ignoring a
person and making judgments makes them feel superior."
Americans don't brush off homelessness in general, however. A recent
Associated Press poll found 90 percent consider it a serious problem. And 56
percent said in the long term it's brought on by circumstances beyond a person's
But harassment and even killings of the homeless do occur. They are one of
the last groups with whom abuse is fair game, Stoops noted. He pointed to the
Bumfights video series, in which the homeless are filmed and paid to hurt
themselves, and "Bumvertising," which pays Seattle street people to hold
placards touting a poker Web site, as examples of recent exploitation.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions, answers and comments, or
mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949,
Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information.