Also published on The Huffington Post.
Some of us ignore the issues of homelessness. When we walk past homeless people, we may even pretend that these people do not exist. I call the act of ignoring homeless people who are right in front of our eyes, “sleep-waking past homeless people.”
Of course, sleeping is a natural function for all human beings. Mark Stibich, PhD. wrote in About.com Guide, updated on May 8, 2009, that sleep is important for people because:
1. Sleep keeps your heart healthy; 2. Sleep may prevent cancer; 3. Sleep reduces stress; 4. Sleep reduces inflammation; 5. Sleep makes you more alert; 6. Sleep bolsters your memory; 7. Sleep may help us lose weight; 8. Naps make you smarter; 9. Sleep may reduce your risk for depression; and 10. Sleep helps the body make repairs.
From reading this lengthy list of benefits, it is obvious that sleep is very helpful to our well-being.
However, one thing that sleeping will not do is help to end homelessness. Since the 1970’s, homelessness has increased and homeless people have become a familiar sight. Often, housed people turn a blind eye to the plight of homeless people. But why?
In my experience, some housed people ignore homeless people for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most common reason is that these housed people are afraid of becoming homeless themselves. This fear is similar to the fear of contracting a disease that some of us experience when we are around a person we know has a disease.
By merely acknowledging the existence of a homeless person, some housed people are reminded of the fragility of their own economic existence. They begin to think that their job and/or savings could go away and they remind themselves that they are only a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless. This fear is based upon today’s economic reality.
Further, homeless people are often ignored because some of us housed people have become so familiar with what we deem to be their unsightly images, the “blight of homelessness,” that we just want homeless people to go away. We are not surprised to see homeless women and men. Rather, we have come to almost expect to see homeless people standing on the corner or sitting in the park. The expression, “familiarity breeds contempt” may hold true in this case, particularly with regard to homeless adults.
Perhaps, some of us are surprised to see children we think are being unsheltered with their parent or parents. Seeing children who are unsheltered is not a familiar sight because they are usually either in school and/or being hidden by their parent(s).
Homeless parents sometimes hide their child to avert the perceived threat that their child will be taken away from them by law enforcement authorities. I say “perceived threat” because homelessness is not in itself enough grounds for the police to take away children from their homeless families. However, if a child is in danger because of being homeless or if their parent(s) is suspected of being an unfit parent, for example, the police have a positive duty to protect the child and remove the child.
Finally, some housed people may be afraid of some homeless people because these homeless people are strangers. As children, we are taught to be afraid of strangers with instructions such as, “Never talk to strangers!” This fear of strangers is meant to protect children from danger.
However, adults have a greater ability than children to understand life situations and the new people they encounter. While fear of the unknown is a common fear, we adults can change unknown strangers into acquaintances through the simple technique of introducing ourselves to people when we meet them.
By “sleep-walking past homeless people,” we will never solve homelessness. We cannot end homelessness by ignoring the problem.
We need to wake up!
Only by being aware of something, can we affect it. Only by becoming aware of the issues of homelessness, will we be able to solve them. Awareness of the issues of homelessness comes through opening our eyes and truly seeing homeless men, women and children.
Once we are awake and aware of the plight of homeless people, we can educate ourselves by directly serving those in need, by assisting people and programs already in place to help others and by attending workshops and seminars on the topic of homelessness. Through our own education, we can understand what we can do to help those in need.
Finally, through compassion, which is factually love in action, we can resolve the issues of homelessness.
I suggest the following steps to cure “sleep-walking past homeless people:” Awareness, Education, Understanding and Compassion.