I think that one of the things I notice the most when I read the Gospel accounts of Jesus is how concerned he was with the dignity of the individual.
From the first miracle at Cana, where he saved a family from social disgrace by coming up with wine where previously there had only been water, to the woman who had the hemorrhage and was unclean, to the numerous lepers he healed, it seems that many of his miracles are centered around helping individuals get and maintain dignity.
When Christ helped someone, he did it in such a way that not only alleviated their suffering but also allowed them to regain their sense of worth and maintain their dignity. Sadly, many of his followers show no such wisdom.
When we hand out food at soup kitchens, when we shovel food in the park and when we pass out coats and blankets to all who ask (and I have done all of those, do I am pointing the finger back at myself as well), we have to make sure we do not assume the air of superiority over those we are “helping”.
Last Thursday the City Of Raleigh participated in Project Homeless Connect, an all day event held in Moore’s Square, where representatives from all the services a homeless person might want were available. There was a table you could get photo ID, a place to get HIV testing, representatives from the housing authority, and so on. The idea was sound, but the execution showed just how far removed from the actual people and issues that surround the homeless the elected officials really are.
For example, Wake County Commissioner Lindy Brown welcomed us all there, whether we were “homeless, or law-abiding citizens.” What the heck is that? If you do not have your name on a lease somewhere you are not law abiding? Or you are not a citizen? You know, you would think that if anyone would be aware of the power of language and the need to watch what you say in public, it would be a female African-American politician.
The Mayor, the other Commissioners and the heads of The United Way and other organizations involved in “helping the homeless” were, of course, all on hand to have their picture taken with the homeless. Every one of them wore a suit. Now, would it have hurt to dress down that day? If you are going to spend all day wandering among the homeless, who most assuredly will not be wearing suits, perhaps it might be more respectful to dress down a bit. But if you did not wear a suit, you might (oh horror) be confused with one of the homeless. How would anyone know how important you are if you don’t wear your suit?
They paraded the two obligatory “success stories” in front of us, who were once like you, but now live “normal lives” according to Lindy Brown (thus calling the attendees abnormal). In particular, look at this paragraph:
Wake County Commissioner Lindy Brown will host the event and participate in the opening ceremony, planned for 10:30 a.m. She will be joined by Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, Phillip Mangano, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and two formerly homeless citizens.
Notice who did not get their name in print. Those two formerly homeless citizens have a name, but we were too busy making sure that Phillip Mangano got his 10-word title in print to worry about the four words that make up these two people’s names.
How about some more examples. In a story by the News and Observer, the reporter covering the event (
From under bridges, roadside camps, park benches, church basements, junked cars and the other makeshift places where the homeless sleep, hundreds came Thursday morning to three Triangle events aimed at getting them off the street.
One large rule in Journalism is to never stereotype. Just like you would never see an editor in the year 2007 let an article pass that referred to African Americans in a pejorative manner, this stereotyping should never have been allowed. Yes, some homeless do sleep under overpasses. However, some sleep in shelters, some sleep at the homes of friends, and yes, some sleep wherever they can grab a few uninterrupted minutes.
The examples I have shown (and there were many, many more) let us see just how far the Elected Officials of Raleigh still have to go in order to truly understand the plight of the Homeless.