Helping homeless also helps the giver

lfpress.com – comment/editorial
Last Updated: June 6, 2011.    Andrea DeMeer, QMI Agency

A study released recently by the Salvation Army reveals a whopping 43% of Canadians have never given money to a homeless person.

It would be nice to think that’s because 43% of Canadians have never encountered a homeless person. Given the country has at least 150,000 homeless on any given day, according to the study, that seems unlikely.

And it begs the question–just what is wrong with 43% of Canadians?

Four of every ten adults have stepped around poverty their whole lives and never once offered to help a person in obvious need; coughed up enough change for a meal or a bottle of clean water. You can bet your last nickel those same people don’t give the homeless even the benefit of eye contact. The homeless are something to be skirted on the sidewalk.

The Army’s study–commissioned to explore public perception of homelessness –also showed one third of Canadians are afraid of homeless people. Almost the same number subscribe to an unrealistic “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” philosophy of social justice and believe a good work ethic is all that is needed to escape homelessness. Like it’s so easy to find a job, or a higher paying job, when your address is a downtown shelter or the ground floor of a highway overpass.

Ignorance is rampant. Forty percent of Canadians think homelessness is a choice and many believe the homeless are almost all mentally ill.

The reality is quite different. Most people are homeless because they can’t afford homes. Abuse, alcohol and drug problems, and mental disorders play a role in the lives of some homeless people, just as they do in the lives of Canadians who sleep every night in penthouse suites, or in three-plus-one bedroom ranches in the suburbs.

Homelessness has many causes, driven primarily by a lack of affordable housing and low social assistance rates. The solutions demand a national strategy on housing and a serious commitment from government to eradicate poverty.

No–occasionally flipping five bucks to a destitute stranger on the street will not cure homelessness. But it could make a huge difference in someone’s day. It could certainly make a difference in the day of the giver.

Because the issue isn’t really about how Canadians perceive being homeless.

It’s about how they perceive being human.

–Andrea DeMeer

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