Those who are homeless are often called lazy. It is not uncommon for the Homeless Alliance staff to hear comments like “why can’t they just find jobs?” when we talk about homelessness in the community. Too often, those who are disconnected from the experience of homelessness want to boil it down to the individual while also creating silver-bullet solutions (i.e., “get a job”). Yet, with a quarter of homeless individuals in Erie County reporting that they have a disability which precludes them from working, it is clear that employment is not the solution. We often think that the difference between “us” (those who have a home) and “them” (those who are homeless) is that “we” work and “they” don’t. It is interesting that few recognize that the difference is a home.
Moreover, there seems to be a double standard about work. Often, those who are poor or homeless just “need to get job”. When it comes to the poor, we put a high value on the need to work. Yet at that same time, we don’t reward work in this country, as the declining value of the minimum wage demonstrates. Some economists have noted that if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1970′s, then it would currently be about $18/hour.
Kevin Barbieux, author of a great blog from Nashville called The Homeless Guy, highlighted a comment from one of his readers in this post that really reflects the misconceptions about those who are homeless and “laziness”.
If you haven’t looked at The Homeless Guy blog before, take a minute to check it out, as it contains a lot of great discussions.
The comments made in this post also reflect on the difficulties of panhandling. Often, panhandlers are treated as criminals, threats, or as less than human. Of course, not all who are homeless panhandle and not all panhandlers are homeless.
One way that cities have helped alleviate the dehumanization and maltreatment associated with panhandling is through the creation of “street newspapers”. Vendors can buy – at a low price – a stack of street papers and sell them on the streets and keep the profit. This replaces asking for money and provides more opportunity for positive interaction on the street. The papers they sell contain issues that matter to homeless and low-income populations – articles, stories, poetry, art – etc.
A great example of a street paper is “streetvibes” from Cincinnati. Also, the North American Street Newspaper Association promotes the creation of street newspapers throughout cities in North America.
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