I live in the southern part of the Space Coast known locally as Brevard County in the city known as Melbourne, Florida. Since this area was built on the back of the Space Program in the fifties, it is now a hard hit area job wise. A few years back the city began renovation of the downtown area and created a newly trendy area which also housed a long hated soup kitchen known as Daily Bread. Years ago Daily Bread moved to just outside the downtown area as requested by the city. However, due to the recent jewel-in-the-crown status of the area along with downward economic developments, Daily Bread has endured heightened animosity.
I frequently encounter panhandlers downtown. I have seen some frustration from the homeless, but not the aggression reported by angry, frustrated shopkeepers and neighbors. That may be because I have no negative expectations and actually take the time to talk to them like any other person.
As someone who is occasionally mistaken for the homeless, I can tell you that it is a very demeaning experience. I've had people act like I was going to attack them, avoid speaking or turn their back on me, slam car doors in my face, etc. When I introduce myself to neighbors I've yet to meet, I commonly hear very hateful descriptions of “those people,” meaning the people who go to Daily Bread. Since I receive services from Daily Bread I find it personally demeaning. When others outside the area hear such negativity, it tends to program them to anticipate any homeless encounter in a fearful and negative way. When that happens and the housed encounter an individual who has reached their limit on loss and pain, indifference to their suffering, projected anger and annoyance is likely to elicit a similar response.
The homeless in our area are part of our community and in most ways very like the individuals who are supported or helped out by various friends or relatives. The main difference being that these people do not have anyone to help them out. I view them in the same way as I would anyone who has just suffered a major life loss. Under such circumstances, some people are going to be distraught, and some are angry and feel as if no one cares about them. It would be bad enough to endure such hardship, but it is demeaning to have your mere presence viewed as, “Things would be fine if you just weren't here.” When you view someone in this way, you demean not only them but also yourself.
If the City and the people of Melbourne are really serious about resolving the homeless issues, then I suggest they revisit local efforts to provide expanded services to the homeless. Daily Bread operates on extremely limited hours, providing hungry people a mere one meal a day. That, plus refusal to allow adequate expansion and extremely limited use of both showers and toilets at their site and throughout the area has significantly contributed to sanitation problems. Like anyone else they'd like to use standard facilities, but if we as a society have refused to provide sanitation, then why are we pointing the finger at them? Lack of emergency shelter has also contributed to the issues. I once met an emotionally distraught man, just released from the hospital for being beaten. He was extremely upset by the fact that he had to spend yet another night vulnerable and without shelter. People seldom stop to consider how dangerous it is to sleep without any protection at all. Can you imagine what it is like to be released from the hospital to go home and go to bed....but instead you have to cower somewhere and hope you make it through the night? The issue is less that homeless people in our area are the problem, but rather that there seems no unified effort on the part of our citizens or city to resolve these issues and come up with answers. Instead the onus is always on anger and blocking actions that could help resolve the problems of homelessness. It's very telling that those of us who have actually engaged the homeless with respect and compassion see them as just people who have lost everything, are hurting and desperate. Now, to top it all, many people hate them just because they have no home. Florida is #1 in hate crimes towards the homeless. Twice as many people are killed here in the name of homelessnes; twice as many in the #2 state California. There is a direct correlation between an increase in hate crimes and the number of homeless specific laws. As long as prejudice towards the homeless is considered justified you are going to have people reacting to your low opinion of their severe need and the problems will escalate. Our community needs to look inward and ask not “How can we get rid of these people?” but “How can we resolve the problems that the homeless are facing today?” In areas united on progress in this arena, where the homeless are seen as worthy of help, eliminating homelessness has proven not only viable, but a money saving option. Once that happens the homeless will no longer be an issue.
Todays Lesson: "The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
copyright Linda Matthews 6/8/2014