Don't Believe the Stereotypes

Commentary by Donald Whitehead

Like so many others in the land of the free and the brave, sometimes referred to as America, I looked at life through sunglasses. I saw only what I wanted to see, read only what I was supposed to read and did only what I was suppose to do. But a funny thing happened on the way to the fortune 500 Club. I joined the navy and I realized there were people around the globe a lot less fortunate than me and my countrymen here in the land of plenty.

I sought a new direction in my life - I wanted to help. I believe I joined a fight that was very worthwhile, a fight to help save the world from ultimate destruction through the waste and exploitation of our natural resources. I still believe it's a very worthwhile fight and I continue my efforts, though not as strongly. But recently I was touched by an even more desperate and worthwhile fight--the plight of the homeless. Like so many, I was apathetic to the seriousness of this issue because of the misinformation and misrepresentation associated with it. It wasn't until I myself experienced the horror and despair of being homeless that I could fully understand the problem.

I was made to believe that the homeless were worthless bums who just wanted a free handout. After all, how could someone possibly not find a job in the good Ole USA. I thought the face of the homeless was the panhandler who just needed enough for his next drink or drug. True enough, his face is included in the many I see daily as I serve bowls of soup in the Drop-In-Center. But he is a small minority.

The faces I serve are faces of hungry children with tattered clothes, the faces of the mentally handicapped, incapable of gaining the most menial of jobs, the faces of senior citizens, once as productive as you or me. I see the faces of men who fought hard to protect this great country of ours, new victims of the horrors of the carnage they encountered.

I also see the other side - the city council who wants them to move on. Who sees the problem through dollar bills. I see the many vacant buildings, a gold mine for developers, a sanctuary for the homeless.

I have but one goal in writing this article - for each and every person that reads it to come and see for yourself. Get involved. And most of all, don't believe the hype.

Copyright  NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12