Tapati (tapati) wrote,

Response to Anti-Homeless Rant in the Santa Cruz Paper

The usual Santa Cruz privileged rant goes something like this: Santa Cruz is easy on homeless people and that attracts more to move there, the city coddles them and liberals make a lot of money providing services for them on taxpayer's dime, people choose the homeless lifestyle (I'm not kidding) and don't want to work, are lazy bums using drugs or drinking and so on. It gets old. After reading several comments to that effect in response to a letter to the editor, this was my response.

I am always disheartened by the misconceptions and stereotypes people have about homeless people. Poor choices...like the poor choice to be mentally ill? Or to have lost one's home after being downsized and unable to find another job quickly enough in a bad economy? Or to have parents who fell on hard times?

Once upon a time I was one of those homeless people. I apparently made a poor choice to flee my abusive home after social services didn't have a placement for me, then I ended up in an abusive relationship with a man who was SO nice during the courtship phase. He made the actual choices that led to our being homeless in Santa Cruz in 1980 for a few months. I certainly didn't feel like Santa Cruz was easy on us back then (or now) because it was essentially illegal for me to sleep! Imagine, closing your eyes in a public place and falling asleep from exhaustion was illegal, then and now, because that is "camping" and there is a camping ban. It adds insult to injury to not have a roof over your head and then be subject to arrest if you fall asleep without one!

I felt that going back to my abusive family was an absolute last resort but finally I did so, trading physical and verbal abuse for merely verbal and gaining a roof over my head and a safe place to sleep. I later went back to school and got my education after receiving some therapy for my PTSD. I didn't come here to be homeless; I was here already when I became homeless. Many homeless people can find a stable situation or even prosper if given help at the right moment. Such help can turn a homeless person into a taxpayer once again. Isn't that a desirable outcome?

How many of those of you who scorn homeless people have families who helped you out when you experienced some financial set backs that were not of your own creation? What if there was not a family with the resources to help? You all seem to assume that the same people are perpetually choosing to be homeless and get a free ride. You can probably find someone who fits that stereotype; there are always a few people who fit any stereotype about their group. What is more often the case is that people fall through the cracks of our society as it becomes increasingly stratified and favors those who already have wealth. They experience weeks or months of homelessness until they receive some services or help to get back out. Others take their place. Since you don't know any of them or really see the individual faces it seems to you like the same people "choose" to be homeless for years on end or that social policies to help people escape homelessness aren't working. I assure you, they are.

I challenge you all to get to know some actual homeless people and learn about their stories, whether it is mental illness, surviving abuse, a lost struggle with addiction, temporarily being broke, bankrupt from a physical illness that caused them to lose their job, and so many other reasons. Some have worked hard all their lives. We'd like to believe homelessness stems from "poor choices" because we'd like to believe it could never happen to us. If you are middle class it might not, if you have friends and family who would help you out and money in savings. But this last recession has thrown even many middle class people into homelessness in their cars or campers. Treat homeless people just as you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes. Creating a climate of intolerance may come back to haunt you if it ever happens to you.
Tags: abuse, domestic violence, homeless, homelessness, mental illness, prejudice, ptsd, santa cruz

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