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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Love thy neighbor — even the homeless one

    It used to be easy to spot the homeless schizophrenics as they wandered around campus.

    You know, they were the ones headed for the library, muttering and occasionally ejaculating out loud to themselves, gesturing for no one to see. Now, thanks to Bluetooth mobile phone technology, the distinction is getting harder and harder to make.

    But who am I to point fingers? I’m not exactly famous for showering or shaving, and am the sort of guy at whom even a homeless man has shouted, “”Get a haircut, hippie!”” Maybe this is why when I used to play my bongos with the transient and hard-up musician crowd down on North Fourth Avenue, they would sometimes get the wrong idea and offer me some of the change we’d receive or part of a half-eaten sandwich they’d found somewhere.

    Being occasionally mistaken for a homeless person helped me realize how much we stereotype and discriminate against them as a population. This truth has been long understood by those who know these people best, like Deborah Dale, chief development officer for the Primavera Foundation, a local homeless relief organization. As Dale observed, “”There’s a lot of shame associated with being homeless in our society – people won’t even make eye contact with you. They judge you before thinking of you as a person with your own life history.””

    The Primavera Foundation, in contrast, extends a sympathetic hand to this population by providing temporary shelter, a mailing address and other services for the Tucson homeless, approximated at 4,200 people per night.

    The life stories of the homeless are indeed as varied as those of different individuals belonging to any other group, united solely by their tragic quality. There are the 30 percent of the local homeless who are physically or behaviorally disabled; there are the 40 percent who can’t readjust to a society they just finished paying their debt to in the Armed Forces or the penitentiary, according to Primavera statistics. There are the mentally unstable, who with wealthier or more supportive families would be spending their lives in the relative comfort of hospitals or rehab clinics. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimated a quarter of the national homeless population suffered from severe mental illness in 2006.

    And then there are those like my buddy Phoenix, who, when I got to know him, was a wandering fiddler trying to save up enough to move on to another town. He would’ve been happy in a Celtic monastery, but was born into a time and place that he was somehow never able to meet halfway.

    Homeless people are just what the label implies. They’re people, and as such deserve respect. But they’re also people with no home to go to – and that should earn them some sympathy. Instead they are often showered in scorn or unmet by uncomfortable, averted eyes. Some see them like insects in their homes, foul intruders upon their sanitary lives, while others use them as scapegoats to help justify a world fetid with economic injustice, saying, “”Hey look, there are the ones who had a chance to succeed but failed.”” We might as well blame indigenous populations for succumbing to imperialism.

    The homeless weren’t always categorized in such a mean way. The rise of capitalism has brought about ideologies which directly equate financial success with individual worth (for an excellent summary, read Alain de Botton’s “”Status Anxiety””). To medieval Scots, however, the life of the beggar was considered a respectable profession. It was said that in exchange for living such a hard life, the beggar was rewarded with “”the world’s room”” – any place beneath the sky was his to call home.

    But the world can be a dangerous place, especially with no shelter. Ever get cold at night? How about hot during the summer? Imagine such conditions for months at a time on the streets, where the likelihood of being the victim of violent crime is also heavily increased (the National Coalition for the Homeless reported a 65 percent increase in crimes committed against the homeless in 2006). Being asked for spare change shouldn’t make you feel like a rude intruder has spoilt your pristine day. Instead, you should take it as a welcome reminder that – if you’re like many Wildcat readers – your daily worries pale in comparison to those of many others living in your city. A buck to the person asking for it might make all the difference in their world, while you could probably give away a $100 and still have enough to cover your Bluetooth upgrade at the end of the year. Many of our homeless worry if they’ll live that long. Rest assured, your dollar will make them far happier than it could ever make you.

    If you’re worried about how your money will be spent, however, help the UA’s current effort to assist Primavera by donating socks or toothbrushes to from the homeless in Student Union Memorial Center Room 411. Better yet – get to know a homeless person, and decide for yourself if they’re worthy of your help. They’ll probably appreciate the company.

    Daniel Sullivan is a senior majoring in German studies and psychology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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