One of the largest roadblocks to helping the homeless get housed is that so many people dislike the homeless. This dislike ranges from merely considering the unhoused to be lazy bums to outright hatred.
But let’s digress, shall we? Recently, while waiting (in the morning) for some prescriptions to get filled in SLO, I took my dog for a walk around the strip mall. I encountered two obviously homeless people and engaged them in conversation (note: I encountered them in different areas of the parking lot and assume that they weren’t together).
The first was obviously intoxicated, smelled really bad, and was outright rude, as the publicly intoxicated often are. He solicited money from me, which I declined to contribute to him. I resisted the urge to encourage him to curtail his morning drinking. I also thought about calling law enforcement, but I didn’t do that either (maybe I should have?).
The second man also appeared drunk, though I was not as certain. However, he smelled heavily of cigarettes. His hands were so smoke-impregnated that when I let him pet my dog, I could still smell the smoky scent on my dog when I got back in the car to drive home! This man had a large cart filled with possessions, but did not solicit money from me.
Both men were friendly, but I still found them to be repulsive. I did see through their outer repulsiveness and observed that they were kind but desperate men. These two encounters reinforced my understanding of how so many of my friends, family, and acquaintances despise the homeless.
These two men are not representative of the vast majority of the homeless in SLO County. Unfortunately, they are de facto representatives of all the unseen homeless people, at least to the public. This tiny minority taints the opinions of the masses and creates great obstacles to improving the condition of our communities’ homeless population.
No revelations here. Nothing new. These encounters did further reinforce my understanding of why the homeless are so despised, and also why I don’t blame those who hold that opinion. Consider that the vast majority of the SLO County homeless fit in one of the following categories:
- • veterans
- • mentally ill
- • disabled
- • children younger than 18
- • working full- or part-time
So let’s start with the above group of homeless people. Should we help them? Should they be able to live indoors and not in our creekbeds and overpasses? Do they deserve our help? Should we provide them with basic food resources? I say yes.
After we do that, then let’s deal with the tiny number who are still unhoused, like the two men I recently met in the parking lot.
-- Tim Waag - San Luis Obispo