Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stereotypical Homeless People?

I abandoned my erroneous assumptions regarding the composition of America’s homeless population many years ago. The book: Same Kind of Different as Me further challenged my view of people living on the streets. (Incidentally I highly recommend the book.) An encounter this past week further confirmed that there is nothing stereotypical about those who struggle to have a stable home environment.



In Granbury, we do not have a significant homeless population. And furthermore as a community we are lacking any kind of shelter or temporary housing for those in immediate need. But periodically such needs arise. One of the Granbury Police officers called me Thursday morning to assist with a homeless man who found himself in Granbury on one of the coldest days of the year.


We were convinced that it had been nearly 24 hours since he had eaten. I took him to my favorite café. (It is a place where everybody knows my name.) While he devoured a hearty breakfast, I went to work to secure a bus ticket to Austin. He apparently had at least some resources in the Austin area. Our conversation on the way to the bus station turned out to be very interesting.


He is a very articulate man. I could tell by his vocabulary and analytical abilities that he seemed to be fairly educated. He told me he only lacked a few semester hours from having a degree in European History. I have no reason to think that is not true. I got him situated at the bus station in Arlington, and made gave him the same amount of money I would give one of my kids for a meal out on the road.


Why is such an engaging individual basically living on the streets? There are two simple explanations and a third one that is more complex. He has struggled with alcoholism for a long time. (He even mentioned attending AA meetings.) There is a probability that he has dealt with mental illness as well. The complexity enters the picture when you ask: why is there no family to help with such problems? I can do a lot of speculation based on years of experience in dealing with such situations, but it is just that…speculation.


I walked away from that experience Thursday thinking about several things. Here a few that might stimulate your thought processes as well:


• There is no such thing as a stereotypical homeless person.
• There are a lot of wonderful people living one step away from being without family, shelter, and other basic necessities of life.
• It is great to live in a community where a restaurant owner treats a genuinely hungry homeless individual like their best regular customer.
• The homeless population is not going away and it is getting younger. (More on that issue in a future post.)


What assumptions do you make about people that are struggling to survive on the streets?  I know for a fact that my assumptions have been duly challenged once again...

1 comment:

Niki said...

Here is my very embarrassing confession. Until I began working with homeless and at risk individuals, I didn't expect to meet one who was good looking. I expected "them" to have a worn out, haggard, slightly drunk appearance. Sad, but true. I had a lot to learn, and one of the first homeless guys I met and became friends with was not only attractive, but quite a flirt. I got to process my prejudice while chatting over a Coke as we played cards. I couldn't stop staring at his big blue eyes and wondering how on earth a guy like him could end up on the streets. Fast forward 6 years and I get it now. That was my first shock regarding the stereotypes that I held, and the hundreds of street friends I've had since then have continued to teach me that there is no stereotypical homeless person. There is also no stereotypical Christian.

BTW, the guy I was talking about is incredibly intelligent, no longer homeless, has done medical missions, and is now living abroad with his new wife. We keep up through Facebook.

Great post John! :)