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 Generation That Might Not Care, A Green New Deal Is Crucial

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The reality of climate change and method to address the issue has been a source of contention in the United States for far too long. While Republicans trail behind Democrats a great deal in the percentage who believe long-term, irreversible climate change is a real problem, an equally if not more important gap to acknowledge is that between generations.

A universally taught science concept in elementary school is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the day-to-day condition of the atmosphere — rainy, sunny, etc. Climate is the weather of a particular geographic location over a long period of time. The weather in an area may be snowy on a particular January day but might overall have a warm climate (Trump has yet to learn this concept).

The gap between generational support for not only believing in the reality of climate change but if the government should take steps to prevent further harm on our planet is apparent. A few reasons that older generations may not support aggressive climate change policies are that many are not going to see the lasting impact of their harmful actions, may not want to acknowledge that their way of life for a majority of their life was detrimental to the environment, or that they simply do not think it is the government's role to further regulate current practices and lifestyles in the name of the environment (an argument supported by many conservatives).

Data For Progress

The "Green New Deal," proposed earlier this month by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey is mainly a list of ideas and goals rather than a carefully laid-out plan, though aims to eliminate greenhouse emissions through the creation of millions of jobs in the renewable energy industry, moving toward public ownership (a major source of disagreement among Republicans and Democrats), and much more. This plan is a comprehensive overview of many sources of environmental degradation that our nation has not addressed, despite the majority of the nation believing the climate change is a real issue.

There will undoubtedly be a major shift in the operations of many companies due to aggressive climate change policies, which could have been avoided at a drastic level if our nation had chosen to make climate change prevention a priority. Unfortunately, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global temperatures will rise to an irreversible level in 12 years if the United States and other countries that greatly contribute to rising temperatures do not take action. A sense of urgency has been lacking for far too long is crucial.

Written into the recently proposed Green New Deal is a section detailing how it will attempt to remedy the inequality of those most directly impacted by climate change. Vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color, are not seeing an equitable distribution in disaster funding to prevent damage inflicted by the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters that have resulted as an increase in rising global temperatures — Which, regardless of your age, should be a glaring flaw in our current system.

I personally doubt that the entirety of the recently proposed Green New Deal will be enacted, however, I believe that anyone who values the quality of human life, clean air, clean water, food sources, for not just those in the United States, but around the world, should be supportive of a Green New Deal.

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