Homeless-ism: A New Kind of Bigotry

By | Sep 10, 2012

I am better than you.

I have a piece of paper that says I spent eight years sitting in higher education classes. I have money in the bank, even if it only garners a few bucks in interest each month. I own my own home (well, with the help of a bank). I live on the right side of the tracks where everyone looks the same and lives in the same kind of tract house.

And I don’t like you.

Your eyes are slanted. Your lips are too big. You’re too old to get the job done. You’re a bad driver. You’re too quiet and reserved. Too loud and obnoxious. You work in the back kitchen. You’ll never get into management. I don’t trust you. Too small. Too big. Too smart. Too feeble. Too lazy. Too ambitious.

Frankly, you just don’t look like me. The color of your skin. The shape of your face. The height of your body. I’m more comfortable with sameness. Not differences.

I guess that’s why racism, ageism, sexism, anybody-looks-different-ism is so acute in our multicultural society. Because there is always a majority group that thinks they are better than others. Even if, for the first time in this country’s history, we do not have a white male President. Our society of “ism” predominates  our thoughts, if not our actions.

We discriminate against people. We project unfair stereotypes. We feel we are superior.

When we look at homelessness in this country, this same “ism” controls our perspectives.

You’re homeless? Well, I am better than you. I have a job. I pay my bills. I’ve worked hard all of my life to make it (even though my parents, or Uncle Sam, paid for my education). I am not lazy. I follow society’s rules. I could never become homeless, like you.

You’re living on the streets? Well, I don’t like you. You’re dirty. You’re dangerous. You just don’t look healthy. You’re using drugs. You’re a sex offender. You’re making my neighborhood look bad! Ruining our property values. Tracking in criminal elements.

You are lazy. Dirty. A freeloader.

I guess that’s why homelessness persists in this country. We can’t dispel those damn stereotypes. Maybe that’s why people would rather donate to a cause that helps homeless puppies than an agency that helps homeless people.

Sure, the new approach to addressing homelessness is to show cost-savings to society. If we get you off the street, we save money by no longer paying for your emergency room bills and law enforcement encounters.

But that doesn’t really address the quiet, underlying attitude of bigotry. We can still dislike you while helping you get off the streets. The truth is, we just don’t want to see you anymore.

It seems to me that, until we can overcome the perceived differences between us and them, the housed and the un-housed, our country will always struggle with homelessness.

Until then, maybe we should create a new category of bigotry: Homeless-ism.


Photo by Franco Folini.


  1. Posted Sep 12, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    In my research, I found that most of the chronically homeless people I've studied are disabled. Many are multiply disabled, often severely. While we may view people in wheelchairs and those using canes, walkers crutches and those accompanied by service animals with respect and consideration, more "invisible" disabilities like brain injuries and psychiatric disorders do not seem to generate the same level of courtesy. Unfortunately, individuals with those particular disabling conditions seem to be well represented among those living outdoors and I have often considered discrimination towards disabled individuals as another "ism."

  2. Posted Mar 25, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    This is not something new. It's a fact that homeless people are looked down upon. Yes, it's not right, but it's the truth. Most of the times homeless people are in their situation due to some horrific story in their lives, but we don't think about that.

  3. Posted Mar 26, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Most people don't realise that a single bad decision or an unhappy accident, maybe even being in the wrong place at the wrong time can get you homeless. While most of us have parents or friends to ask for help, there are some people that simply do not. Why would we judge someone just because they don't have as many opportunities as the rest of us do?

  4. Posted Mar 26, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    A lot of people look at this the wrong way. I don't know where we get the misconception that homeless people are somehow less of a human being from. I think we should be more educated on the subject and this should start from schools.

  5. Posted Mar 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    You do realise bigotry and noticing these differences are part of being human, right? Because while we're judging them, they;'re judging us too, thinking that our living is easy for example, because we are all human beings and it's normal to try and stick to your own kind. i'm not saying it's ethical or nice or polite, because it's not and I think it's a terrible thing to mind your own business while another human being is freezing on the streets, but it's our nature.

  6. Posted Apr 3, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Bigotry can ahve so many forms and can come from basically everyone. It doesn't matter if you're highly educated or only graduated highschool, if your parents are rich or poor, if you like in the city, in a suburan area or in a dump

  7. Posted Apr 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to say the same thing! While it's revolting that people still didn't pass this phase, I don't think it would be a good thing to start placing labels

  8. Posted Apr 14, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I think it's normal to see differences in each other, but being a bigot is a completely different thing