Along with shelter, homeless need compassion
On our commentary page today, Dean Gartland, the president and CEO of the City Mission in Washington, explores some of the misconceptions that surround the homeless, and one of the most prominent is the homeless choose to be that way out of their own lassitude.
The thinking seems to be that some people prefer ranch houses, some people prefer townhouses, and the homeless prefer the cardboard box and the storm grate simply because they don’t want to punch a clock or endure the other responsibilities that come with home ownership.
But, as Gartland points out, the homeless often end up in that state through a complex web of difficulties, including drug and alcohol abuse and family relationships that go awry. Laziness seldom, if ever, enters into the equation.
This point was hammered home in a front-page story in The New York Times Wednesday. It detailed the struggles of New York City residents who were employed in multiple part-time jobs and still found themselves taking up residence in homeless shelters.
Granted, New York is one of the most brutally costly housing markets in the country, but you would think that burning the candle at both ends as a security guard or salesclerk would be enough to cover the rent on a closet-sized apartment with a little left over for food and a few other basics.
Not so, apparently.
“I feel stuck,” said one woman profiled in the story. “You try, you try and you try and you’re getting nowhere. I’m still in the shelter.”
The most immediate needs of the homeless are, of course, shelter, along with a job that covers their expenses and, in some cases, treatment for whatever psychological or emotional issues led them to live on the streets. But it’s also clear that they could use some compassion and do without prejudicial assumptions about why they have no roof over their heads.