Homeless people are commonly accused of being nothing more than lazy bums. Stereotyping has led to the general idea that homeless people are nothing but addicts riddled with mental illness. The truth of the matter is that they are people just like everyone else who happened to fall on hard times.
Let’s take a look at an average single homeless person, we’ll call him John Doe Homeless. Mr. Homeless has been on the streets for a number of years. How he got there doesn’t really matter. Mr. Homeless is moderately educated; he dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and got his GED, but he never went to college. No one would be able to call him stupid, but he had more than his fair share of bad luck and hasn’t always made the right choices in life.
Mr. Homeless currently spends his time doing what it takes to survive. He sleeps in a shelter when he has the opportunity, which isn’t often because he has to play the lottery to get a bed — literally. When he wins he gets a cot or a pad on the floor in a room packed full of people. It’s crowded, noisy, and sometimes rowdy; it’s hard to get to sleep. When he does finally get to sleep it’s fitful, the cot is uncomfortable and he wakes often due to the hacking cough of the guy next to him.
Then, at 6:30 am the shelter staff rudely awakens everyone in a manner that is reminiscent of a prison wake-up call. The line for the bathroom quickly stretches down the hall. A shower seems out of the question this morning. He grabs his gear and heads out to get breakfast.
The food line at Glide extends all the way down the block and around the corner by the time he gets there; it took a long time to find a bathroom he could use on the way. The staff slowly herds people like sheep into the building, down stairs to the basement, and into a cafeteria style room. About an hour later he finally gets a tray of food that is cold and barely edible.
It’s now almost nine, so he heads off to the post office to check for General Delivery mail. The line at the post office snakes through the door. About forty minutes later he reaches the window. He receives a letter from the General Assistance office, which states that he has been scheduled for an appointment with his caseworker — at 10:30 today! Such is the nature of General Delivery, that mail often reaches people at the last minute, if not late.
So Mr. Homeless hurries down to the GA building. He has to leave his pack at the front desk bag check and then go through a metal detector to get inside. It’s just another example of how demeaning homeless services have become these days.
He sits down in the lobby. It’s crowded today. There’s well over 100 people waiting hour after hour to meet with a worker for a few moments. Many people seem understandably angry about the amount of hoops that have to be jumped through to prove that they’re needy enough to get a small check. Like anyone who didn’t really need it would put themselves through this.
Finally Mr. Homeless hears his name called, barely audible over the PA system. His worker wants to know why he missed his workfare assignment a couple weeks ago. Mr. Homeless explains he was sick with the flu or something. The worker asks if he has a doctor’s note. He explains that he went to one of the free clinics, sat in the waiting room most of the day, to find out his name had been called hours earlier while he was in the bathroom, and now there was no way they could see him that day. The worker threatens to discontinue his aid if it happens again.
Mr. Homeless leaves and hurries to St. Anthony’s for lunch. The line here is longer than the one at Glide because the food is generally better and the staff nicer, but they only serve one meal a day. Inside he finds a seat with someone he knows. They chat, sharing information about things that have gone down on the street lately. Word is the police have raided yet another homeless encampment, something that has been happening with an ever-greater frequency. It seems every time a group of homeless people joins together for a sense of security and community the cops show up and bulldoze it down.
After lunch Mr. Homeless heads down to Market St. to try and make some money. The check he gets from GA doesn’t stretch very far so he supplements it by panhandling. He has an old and tattered cardboard sign that reads “HOMELESS — ANYTHING HELPS.” For the next few hours he respectfully asks people for their spare change. Most ignore him and more than a few blurt out rude comments like “Get a job.” Occasionally he replies back “I wish I could,” but more often he just smiles and says, “Have a nice day.” Every once in a while someone drops some pocket change in his hand. Eventually he has enough to buy some much-needed new socks and a soda. He saves the rest for coffee and breakfast the next day.
Next he goes to check the shelter lottery to see if his number was drawn for a bed that night. It wasn’t.
So Mr. Homeless heads back to Glide for dinner. The line isn’t quite as long as it was for breakfast, but the food is worse. There isn’t much worth eating on the tray so he goes out and gets back in line for seconds of what was edible.
After dinner he goes over to Bodekker Park to hang out and relax for a little while. Not long after he gets there the cops show up. They say they’re looking for people with warrants and parole violations, but it’s just an excuse to harass people. Mr. Homeless gets searched and has his name run. He’s worried that he might have an old illegal camping ticket, but he comes back clean.
Without a shelter space for the night, Mr. Homeless waits until well after dark and finds a doorway to bed down in. He has to go do his workfare assignment for GA at 6:30 am sharp. He sweeps the streets eight hours a week in exchange for his $320 check. If he’s even five minutes late his check will be cut, so he makes sure the doorway belongs to a business that opens early, sort of like an alarm clock.
He does his best to get comfortable. He’s tired and his feet hurt. Mr. Homeless spent most of the day standing in lines and tomorrow probably won’t be much different.
How could anyone say he is lazy?