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The Student News Site of San Luis Obispo High School

Expressions

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We Need to Treat Homeless People Better

We+Need+to+Treat+Homeless+People+Better

  Homeless people are people. This cannot be overstated.

As our town’s homeless population keeps growing, it’s an idea that many students at San Luis Obispo High School are grappling with. 

  It seems like the most common strategy among average people for dealing with the homeless is by ignoring them, sometimes making up reasons to justify doing so. Noticing a human suffering and pretending that nothing was noticed in the first place is a bad thing to do. It’s a statement that is almost childishly simple and yet I cannot emphasize it enough.

  As with the rest of the nation, SLOHS students’ opinions on dealing with homelessness are all over the place.

  When I asked senior Maggie Zuniga how she felt about interacting with the homeless in public, she said, “I have seen a lot of homeless people around and I’ve learned that when you’re nice to them they’re nice to you,” Zuniga said. “It’s just common sense. Just because they are homeless doesn’t mean they’re not just as human as we are.” 

  Some have more complicated views on it Junior Weston Jenkins had more of a two-sided opinion.

  “Giving handouts to panhandlers will only serve to worsen the issue. It provides positive reinforcement for behaviour that is destructive to the opportunities of the individual,” Jenkins said. “Donating to rehab centers and mental health agencies is a great way to help.”

  There is at least some valid reasoning to both these takes. Most people share Maggie and Weston’s desire to see homeless people be treated nicely. It’s frustrating how it seems that no matter how charitable one is there’s just as many homeless people as ever. 

  I often share this frustration. So the fear of homeless people becoming too reliant on others’ goodwill makes psychological and economic sense, at least from the perspective of someone who’s never been homeless themselves. 

  But humanity is so much more than purely-logical, scientific thinking. Almost always, it matters more how we treat others in the here-and-now than how we intend to treat them later. Small acts of kindness and recognition might not solve the problem of homelessness, but they can make homeless people feel better and maybe give them just a little bit more energy to fight against their injustices.

  We, being social animals, need the love and care of others to survive. Everyone can understand, from experience, just how awful and debilitating the feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and inferiority are. 

  Although many people on the streets already suffer from mental illnesses, such feelings are not at all helpful for even the most mentally stable people who are “trying to get back on their feet.” The first step to combating this to make eye contact with homeless people and acknowledge them, just like one would do to anyone else. A nod, a smile, or a “hi” are also great. Actions like these are how humans show each other respect and validation and as such shows homeless people that one views them as valuable human beings and equals.

  A more controversial act, though, is giving money to homeless people. We are often told that handing out money to them is bad because they will only use it to fuel their drug or alcohol addictions. 

  This is mostly wrong, both practically and morally. 

  A study done in San Francisco’s Union Square district showed that panhandlers use 94 percent of the money they make to buy food. After all, at the end of the day, even the most addicted people need food. 

  Imagine how demoralizing it must be to homeless people to see that most people are not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt about their judgment. After all, in many other aspects of life, we often give money to people we know are not going to spend it well. 

  Even Pope Francis is on board. 

  In 2017, he declared that giving money to panhandlers is okay and that people shouldn’t be worried about it. Of course, don’t do it if it doesn’t seem safe. Also, if one really just doesn’t feel comfortable giving money, it’s better to tell the truth and say “I’m sorry” than it is to lie and say “I don’t have anything.” To tell someone the truth is to show them that one respects them.

  People who live in poverty are the people who work the hardest. For as poor as homeless people are every day, they have to work hard just to survive. Those who see a homeless person doing nothing must realize that they’re not a slacker but are just exhausted; life is guaranteed to be hard when it’s a struggle even to just find the will to keep going. 

  And, somehow, there are many homeless people who are able to stay hopeful through all this! To find joy despite being abandoned by one’s whole society is the epitome of strength and will. It is one of the greatest examples of human achievement and exceptionalism. And yet we still treat our pets better than the homeless. After all, if we see a dog or cat is suffering we feel compelled to help immediately.

  I live a privileged life; I cannot lie. I will admit that there is more I could personally do to help those in need. But if one is still skeptical about being nicer to homeless people, they should remember this: there are people who are extremely wealthy and hoard most human necessities and then trick us into thinking that we need to fight amongst ourselves for resources. 

  It is a lie—a blatant, evil lie. Homeless people are not the enemy. 

  After all, Jesus, being extremely poor his whole life, said, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). That’s it. No metaphor, no misinterpretation. Inequality is antithetical to goodness. 

  I’m sure that many rich people have fully earned their resources, but for an elite to see that they have something that they don’t need but refuses to part with it when people come around who do need it is irresponsible in a cooperative society. 

  So, if anyone should be shunned, it’s the wealthy, not the homeless.

  When we come across homeless people we must not see them as failures who should either be shunned or pitied, but as brothers and sisters, whether in God or in the spirit of humanity, in the fight to bring dignity, equality, and justice to all human beings. Forgive me for sounding too romantic but I do believe that someday we will all link arms and give everything we’ve got to fight for each other and defeat those who kneel down on our necks and try to crush the windpipe of humanity. 

  But if we are to recognize the homeless as our human brethren, our comrades-in-arms, we must first treat them like humans.

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    john jamisonSep 29, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Absolute crap! It’s time for the homeless to go! AWAY! they can move to King City or beautiful Fresno, maybe peachy Bakersfield. But not here, not now, not ever. Bad behavior will not be condoned and “mental illness” is self inflicted when you spend your time doing drugs and alcohol. To the actually mentally ill, there are resources galore. We are a compassionate society and we look after the weak, infirm and ill. Many church resources in this community are spent in this way (Compassionately) without any government involvement. If you feel so bad about the homeless invite them to live in your home. I’m sure that your careful nurturing attitude will have a profound effect on your new roommate. The reason many of these people are homeless is because they have burned their bridges with friends and family and no one will accept them in their home. We have ample shelters for more than enough of these folks and if no one will let you stay??? THEN MOVE!!!! Los Angeles is a fine destination for homeless as well as San Francisco (where you can panhandle and spend 94% of your mooching on food right?) I have been homeless at points in my life, every time because I was addled with a drug or alcohol problem. The problem was MINE, not the community’s. I lived as I did because I CHOSE to not behave in a civilized manner and was therefore not welcome in civilized society or able to manage to have shelter. I changed because I was tired of living that way and understood that the path to shelter and a place at the community table was through a change in MY actions, not through the community reaching out to me. When a homeless person asks you for a handout, tell them to go somewhere else and to ask someone else. You are doing your part in the community by being part of it, they are denying themselves of it and should not be welcome in it unless they change themselves to be worthy of it. God Bless everyone but to hell with those hell bent on going there.

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