In response to Ms. Duggans June 23 letter to the editor, “Life isn’t free …”
After Vietnam, while living in Thailand, I received my first lesson in homelessness. I ran out of money after a year on the road. In the town where I lived there was a Christian Hospitality house; the sign read “Free cookies and conversation.” Though I had no place to live, I found ways to bathe, and this town had a U.S. Air Force base. It seemed a safe bet that I could get something to eat; I assumed I would be welcome.
The hostess took one look at me and told me that, when my hair was cut to a proper length, she would be happy to share cookies. She handed me 50 cents, the cost of a haircut on the street. I went to the corner soup shop, spent 25 cents, and kept the rest for soup the next day. I slept at a Buddhist temple that night and later in the week got a job teaching English, found a room for rent and moved on.
Though I lived in town for another year, I never went back for cookies. I’ve often wondered whether my life would have been different with a different conversation.
I had the strength of a mother’s love and an upbringing which allowed me to re-assimilate to society. While I appreciate that many of “the homeless” exhibit bad behaviors, I think it’s a mistake to lump them into some category of brokenness. Yes, there are people on drugs; yes, there are some who are mentally ill; yes, we have food kitchens; and, yes, it would be a good idea to pick up trash in trade for lunch.
No, not all of these people choose to live this way, many have no choice. No, they will not be better off out of sight, out of mind, locked away or shunted off to some camp down the highway. Sheltering the homeless, counseling where we can and allowing hope of redemption from the streets is something that we do support and acknowledge in our communities.
Before we label all homeless as disgusting, I think it’s important to recognize that they are human, like us, as disturbing as the may seem.