What is your first reaction when you see people walk down the street towards you? For a lot of people, it might be to smile, wave if you know them or just keep walking if you are a monster who hates human interaction. Just kidding...kind of. Now, instead of someone who looks like you i.e, a fellow college student walking towards you, imagine it is one of the many members of the homeless population that Eugene hosts. Your reaction changes, doesn't it? The question is why and what can we do to shift our line of thinking?
When most people see someone who doesn't look like them or talk like them, the immediate response is to shut that person out. We, as humans, are mentally premeditated to subconsciously align with those who we deem as having similar goals and aspirations as us. Homeless people don't tend to fit into that category. Most people when confronted with the situation take one of two choices.
The first reaction might be one of embarrassment and disgust. Some of the struggles the homeless face manifest as not being completely clean, they are smelly or just unkept in general. But is that the right reaction? I, for one, very much do not think so. The issues that these people face are more then I or anyone in my immediate circle will ever know and I can say that for a fact.
The second reaction is arguably more well-intentioned, but still not helpful. It is a reaction of shame and pity. We feel bad that their situation is so dire but these people feel nothing beyond that. They won't go out of their way to help out those we see. The pity has an effect of possibly dehumanizing the victims of homelessness, because we sometimes, intentionally or not, fail to see these victims as valuable and worth it.
Unfortunately, due to the way that the media has portrayed homelessness and things are seen on tv, many people are not willing to outreach and to help up our fathers, daughters, brothers and so on. One of the things that shifted my perspective on the problem and the things I felt was a phrase told to me years ago. It was the comment that instead of saying the term "homeless people" instead say "people who are homeless."
It may seem like a small shift in words, but to me it was radical. How it was explained is that when we say homeless people, we are putting their unfortunate situation first. It is identifying them, putting a label on what they are and who they are. However, when you say people who are homeless, you are identifying the fact that despite that they have no home currently, they are still people. They are people who deserve common courtesy and respect.
The next shift in consciousness for me came when that same person suggested I think about how I would fare if I were in that same situation. If I had to leave home, not have access to clean water, no washer or dryer, no place to sleep and so on. I came to the startling realization that I would fail. I probably would die the first week and that's the truth. I couldn't do what they do. I wouldn't be able to survive. It made me respect the things they are dealing with so much more.
Ever since then I have decided to make a conscious shift. That is not saying I am perfect or I am always willing to give every dollar to those who ask me for it, but I try my hardest. When people approach me I don't turn away and pretend I didn't hear them if I have something to give, I do. If I do not then I try and offer a smile or a quick conversation. You never know what that would mean to them. The next time you walk past a person who is homeless, think to yourself, how long would you last in that same situation?