Humanizing The Dehumanized: Homeless On Franklin Street

Humanizing The Dehumanized: Homeless On Franklin Street

Everybody deserves to tell their story.
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Franklin Street is home to a number of trendy restaurants, hang-out spots and pop-up shops, all frequented by UNC Chapel Hill students and residents of the surrounding areas. On weeknights it's a great place to go with friends to find a reprieve from homework, and on weekends it's the prime place to be for a fun night of going out.

What about when those adventures are over? Students return to their dorms for a comfortable night of rest in their beds, and families head back home.

But for some, Franklin Street just happens to be home.

Homelessness is the most understated epidemic in America, with an average of 500,000 Americans living in the streets on any given day.

In large urban areas, the statistics are observable; however, in small towns such as Chapel Hill, the epidemic is slightly more nuanced. On streets that bustle with students and families, it can be difficult to see the individuals who call those streets home. These people are ignored, scoffed at, and not given the dignity of responses. Though sometimes the situation can seem threatening, most of the time the people who beg for just a kind word are direct victims -- of familial issues, of substance abuse and of bankruptcy, to name just a few.

So why are these humans who are condemned to the streets treated with such animosity? I took to Franklin Street to find out. I set out to humanize the dehumanized.

Meeting Charles

This information is published with explicit permission from the individual with whom the interview was conducted.

I walked up to Franklin Street on a blistering Wednesday afternoon, my back drenched in sweat from my backpack. It was unbearable, just hot and sticky and generally uncomfortable. I took my camera out to take some test shots of the lighting, and that's when I saw him.

As I would come to find out, I was looking at Charles Gear, a man who has been living on Franklin Street on and off since the late 1980s.

For all those years, he has called the small area outside the University Presbyterian Church his home.

He seemed skeptical as I walked up with my camera on my hip, so I gave an amicable smile. The last thing I wanted to come off as was threatening. As unobtrusively as possible, I took a seat next to him on the low stone wall where he typically resides, and he gazed up at me with stormy eyes.

I introduced myself and described my reasons for seeking him out. Though he seemed eager to chat, his responses were often limited to short answers, with some things sounding trite for him.

Almost immediately, he made sure to let me know that his whole day isn't spent sitting and watching the bustle of Franklin Street. He seemed uncomfortable with the notion that I may judge him for not being productive on a daily basis. After nearly three decades living on Franklin Street, not knowing where his next meal is coming from, and talking to various reporters and interviewers, he seemed rehearsed in quickly spitting out in a raspy Southern twang, "[I sit] right here. Not all day. I go to the hospital and visit where the sick children is sometimes."

As a man with a heart for humanity and human interaction, Gear told me all about how he loves being around people. His eyes lit up when I asked if any students ever come up to talk with him. He nodded, saying that he "typically talks with them about the Bible." Fittingly enough, he said that residing outside a large Presbyterian Church gives him hope for the plans that God holds for his future.

His past, however, is dark.

Gear started fidgeting when asked about his history, and the speculations as to why are endless. He didn't give much insight, for reasons of shame and discomfort. I, of course, didn't want to pry too much into this man's life on a random Wednesday afternoon, but he did imply that alcoholism may have been partially to blame for his current state. He said that there is a widely-spread notion that homelessness is the direct result of an addiction to drinking or drug abuse, or even both together. His eyes cast down to the ground and he quietly muttered, "Ain't it?"

He declined to relay any more about his personal journey.

I asked Gear if I could get him anything, or if there was anything he wanted the public to know about the homeless culture.

"Take [the homeless] out to eat sometime. Give us, like, a pair of socks. A toothbrush. People don't do a whole lot. It don't take a whole lot."

After a few more minutes of chatting, Gear mostly interested in asking me questions about the journalism school at Carolina, I snapped a few pictures and then headed to class. He waved goodbye and gave a crooked half-smile as I walked away. He thanked me for being so kind to him.

Aftermath

Since that encounter with Charles Gear, I have noticed a change in my own behavior. When coming in contact with homeless individuals, I used to be one of the majority who pass by with downcast eyes, neglecting to show any kind of interaction. Now, I walk by with a smile, and if I have any change, I'll give a dollar or two.

I don't have a lot of money to give right now, especially as a first-year college student, but as I learned, it doesn't take a lot to help.

I now find myself humanizing individuals on the streets and treating them with the same respect I would treat my peers. One's situation does not dictate character, it's how that individual deals with the situation that truly shows who he or she is.

So now, I walk on Franklin Street with a new perspective. I greet the people who call those blocks of concrete their homes, and if I have time to stop, I'll ask if I can get them anything from the convenience store down the street. The majority of the time they smile and say it's not necessary, even after I insist. These are real people. They're not part of the scenery. They have needs. They have lives. They have dreams.

And, of course, every time I walk down Franklin Street now, I make sure to greet Charles Gear. He always asks if I'm still writing good stories.

Hopefully, this one is up to his standards.

Cover Image Credit: Karen Stahl Photography

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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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Saying You "Don't Take Political Stances" IS A Political Stance

All you're doing by saying this is revealing your privilege to not care politically, and here's why that's a problem.

bethkrat
bethkrat
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I'm sure all of us know at least one person who refuses to engage in political discussions - sure, you can make the argument that there is a time and a place to bring up the political happenings of our world today, but you can't possibly ignore it all the time. You bring up the last ridiculous tweet our president sent or you try to discuss your feelings on the new reproductive regulation bills that are rising throughout the states, and they find any excuse to dip out as quickly as possible. They say I don't talk about politics, or I'm apolitical. Well everyone, I'm here to tell you why that's complete bullsh*t.

Many people don't have the luxury and privilege of ignoring the political climate and sitting complacent while terrible things happen in our country. So many issues remain a constant battle for so many, be it the systematic racism that persists in nearly every aspect of our society, the fact that Flint still doesn't have clean water, the thousands of children that have been killed due to gun violence, those drowning in debt from unreasonable medical bills, kids fighting for their rights as citizens while their families are deported and separated from them... you get the point. So many people have to fight every single day because they don't have any other choice. If you have the ability to say that you just don't want to have anything to do with politics, it's because you aren't affected by any failing systems. You have a privilege and it is important to recognize it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

We recognize that bad people exist in this world, and we recognize that they bring forth the systems that fail so many people every single day, but what is even more important to recognize are the silent majority - the people who, by engaging in neutrality, enable and purvey the side of the oppressors by doing nothing for their brothers and sisters on the front lines.

Maybe we think being neutral and not causing conflict is supposed to be about peacekeeping and in some way benefits the political discussion if we don't try to argue. But if we don't call out those who purvey failing systems, even if it's our best friend who says something homophobic, even if it's our representatives who support bills like the abortion ban in Alabama, even if it's our president who denies the fact that climate change is killing our planet faster than we can hope to reverse it, do we not, in essence, by all accounts of technicality side with those pushing the issues forward? If we let our best friend get away with saying something homophobic, will he ever start to change his ways, or will he ever be forced to realize that what he's said isn't something that we can just brush aside? If we let our representatives get away with ratifying abortion bans, how far will the laws go until women have no safe and reasonable control over their own bodily decisions? If we let our president continue to deny climate change, will we not lose our ability to live on this planet by choosing to do nothing?

We cannot pander to people who think that being neutral in times of injustice is a reasonable stance to take. We cannot have sympathy for people who decide they don't want to care about the political climate we're in today. Your attempts at avoiding conflict only make the conflict worse - your silence in this aspect is deafening. You've given ammunition for the oppressors who take your silence and apathy and continue to carry forth their oppression. If you want to be a good person, you need to suck it up and take a stand, or else nothing is going to change. We need to raise the voices of those who struggle to be heard by giving them the support they need to succeed against the opposition.

With all this in mind, just remember for the next time someone tells you that they're apolitical: you know exactly which side they're on.

bethkrat
bethkrat

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