Homelessness Should Stir Compassion not Anger

By | Sep 12, 2011

For most of her life, Susan’s parents raised her to be diligent in school and to work hard in order to save enough money to obtain the American Dream – home ownership. After decades of hard work, marriage, and children, she was able to purchase a beautiful home just blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Southern California.

But recently, her family’s life goal became a nightmare. With the downturn of the economy, more and more people who became homeless moved into Susan’s upscale neighborhood, living in old, beat-up vehicles right in front of her house.

Her new homeless neighbors were using the gutter as a bathroom, tossing trash on her lawn, and staying up late at night. When her daughter was accosted one morning on her way to school, Susan jumped into action. She was angry.

Susan, along with a large group of other fed-up neighbors, angrily demanded that their new homeless neighbors be expelled from the streets.

Jamie experienced a different sort of anger. He was raised in England and started his own storefront business just out of college. Maintaining a small business in this difficult economy is no easy feat.

Every night, several rough sleepers (or homeless neighbors) camped out in front of his business stoop. So before opening up his store in the morning, Jamie would thoroughly wash down the porch and the sidewalk in front of his store.

Advocates for homeless persons became angry. They called these “hot washing” actions of business owners like Jamie unjust because people without homes were forced to move without any place to go.

Compassion Versus Anger

Susan’s and Jamie’s experiences reveal that in most communities that struggle with homelessness, the typical response is not compassion, but anger.

In Venice Beach, a well-known beach community in Los Angeles, homeowners battled advocates over the presence of homeless RV dwellers on their streets.

In England, advocates were angry over business owners “hot washing” the sidewalks in front of their commercial space.

In Fullerton, California, a bedroom community in the northern part of Orange County, the anger over police brutality against a homeless man continues to rage.

Thirty years ago, the response to homelessness was compassion. Back then, shelters and programs were started by community members that really wanted to help their economically displaced neighbors. Today, however, compassion fatigue is evolving into anger.

No one wants a shelter built in a residential community or business core. Advocates who spent decades of their lives trying to protect hurting people on our streets are angry that our society continues to allow the injustice of homelessness to persist.

Even when a community sees that permanently housing their homeless neighbors is the solution, anger over placing people into apartments commences. When leaders in Dallas, Texas wanted to house some of their homeless neighbors into vacant apartments, the community went berserk.

How do we overcome the entrenched views of different stakeholders in our communities, when polarizing opinions turn into angry clashes? Very few political leaders or community-supported organizations want to step into such raucous.

But if we are to allow compassion to soothe our natural tendency to become angry then our communities need to come together to create solutions to homelessness.

The common solution is permanently housing our homeless neighbors. A vehicle is not a home, nor is a park bench, shelter bed, or a stoop in front of a storefront business. If we can all just resolve to house our homeless neighbors then anger will turn into compassion.

Photo credit: wolfgangfoto