Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Humanity and homelessness

As a culture, Americans tend to expect people, like machines, to function. According to this hidden logic, we find purpose through our function, and by working we become valuable to the rest of society. This simple idea may help a parent instill a work ethic into her children, or it might help a teacher explain to his students the value of working toward goals.

Unfortunately, this logic also turns people into appliances, and useless appliances are worthless. Imagine how much unnecessary kitchen machinery is discarded annually. A quick jaunt through any flea market will give you a glimpse of the few things vendors believe to be salvageable, but the vast majority of such "labor-saving devices" find their way into landfills.

The same logic can make "unproductive" people seem useless and worthless. But people aren't appliances; they're members of our families and communities. One shouldn't need to be reminded of human beings' intrinsic worth. But the National Coalition for the Homeless' recent report on violence and victimization makes clear this reminder is necessary.

Homeless men and women continue to be targets of violence because "productive" people have internalized this idea that people who aren't (or don't appear to be) working lack value.

Consider this incident from last year:

York City, Pennsylvania
Homeless Man Attacked By a Group of Teens
August 8: At around 12:00 pm, David Wright, a 38-year-old homeless man, was
fishing near Codorus Creek when he was brutally attacked by three to five
boys. Wright reports the teens punched, kicked, and scratched him.
He was taken to the hospital and was treated for contusions and may have a
broken hand.

In the U.S., the number of attacks like this has risen by 13 percent in the last year, with more than half of the attacks having been committed by teenagers.

Clearly, we need a reminder about peoples' intrinsic worth -- especially as the housing crisis (instigated by many hard-working scam artists) threatens to increase the number of homeless people living on the streets. In the press release for the report, David Pirtle, a formerly homeless victim of violence and NCH Board member, calls for a solution: "If the federal government adequately funds permanent affordable housing, fewer people will be on the street, and fewer men and women will be attacked."


Corey said...

Great post Just Harvest.

It is also interesting to see how the government reinforces the “useless appliance” mentality. For example, many states/localities have laws prohibiting panhandling and giving to the street-homeless. Additionally, it is getting harder and harder for homeless shelters to open in the communities that need them most. What message does this send to society about the “worth” of homeless individuals? How can we expect our youth (which seems to be the demographic that is committing most of these attacks) to respect the homeless when our own government wont? Considering most of us are an illness, pay check, or natural disaster away from being homeless, we all should abandon the appliance paradigm for humanity.

r said...

Thanks for running with my metaphor, Corey! Good point about the govenment's failure to recognize peoples' intrinsic value. Do you think this new research might result in some legislative action?

Anonymous said...

consider this comment from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's opinion piece in yesterday's Post Gazette about our improving downtown:

"Look at the Cultural District as a model. It was once the "red light" district of our city and is now thriving with nightly events, top-notch restaurants, public parks and plazas, and residential development. Panhandling in the area has been significantly reduced and its 14 cultural facilities draw an admirable crowd from all over the region. With positive programming and the removal of buses and panhandlers, more than 10,000 people enter Market Square on a given day."

Apparently bus riders and panhandlers are useless to the city and should be removed to allow for more "cultural" activity and an "admirable" crowd.