Homelessness is a problem I would like to fix, but don’t know how. The place I work at is near a grocery store parking lot. We are up on the second floor, and often we conflict in space with one of the places that some of our homeless population in town collects. We interact on the stairs, in the elevator if it isn’t locked at night, and on our way to and from work.

Over the time I’ve worked there, several of my coworkers have commented on how some of the homeless people aren’t really homeless, they’re just high school students or other people who are trying to make an easy buck; how some of the homeless only use the money on alcohol and drugs so they won’t give them anything, and how much of a disruptive and dangerous presence they are.

It really bothers me when they do that. I feel like there are a couple of problems to this mentality.

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First, it really bothers me that the giver gets to decide how someone spends a gift. We don’t have ownership of a gift we give to a friend, and I find it particularly strange that we nevertheless seem to think we have control over a gift of money to someone on the street. When we give money, it is that person’s job to make the decision for themselves what they need most. Maybe they’re wrong, but it isn’t our job as the giver to make the decision for them. It isn’t right. A gift to someone does not buy that person. It is detached from you. It is no longer your experiences which drive and define the best way it should be utilized.

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Secondly, I feel like it shouldn’t actually matter how the person we give money to spends it. The act of giving is something we should do as much as a benefit to ourselves than anyone else. When you see someone who is in a position of being less well off than you are, or in pain, and you choose not to help them because of how they might choose to use that help, it makes you a lesser person. You turn away a request for help and move on with your life. I would rather give to someone, because no matter what they do with it, I have tried to improve the life of someone who is in need and that makes me better. It allows me to exercise my empathy and sense of community.

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How do we deal with this as a security issue? I don’t know. Sometimes, due to conflict and the general atmosphere of interaction, I have felt unsafe myself. But it’s important to remember that just because someone is homeless, it doesn’t make them less of a person. Security issues are a fact for people who are also housed. It depends on the person and the situation, not the group as a whole. And often, there is more danger to not having a safe place to go anyway. I would rather look for ways to build positive relationships to foster a sense of security, instead of only working off the negative.

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In short, I don’t know how to fix this problem. I don’t know if the answer of providing more free housing, better healthcare, and finding a way to create accessible jobs is the answer, but it seems a great deal better than simply ignoring the problem or sending in the police every time we are made uncomfortable by a different group of people who are just as human and have just as many needs as we do. I know that with more opportunities, more people who need access will flock to an area, but I can’t see how leaving things how they are is an acceptable way to keep going. I think there has to be a new way of handling this problem, and when we find it our society is going to have made a very large stride forward. So, we need to actually talk about instead of just letting the problem be invisible.

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I got a little Zen when I was thinking this through, but there are a lot of different mentalities and beliefs that overlap with this, so I do think it’s relevant to everyone.

If anyone has any suggestions how to help with this problem, please let me know. I would love to start finding a practical solution.

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