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Apathy is the Biggest Problem | May 10, 2010

Apathy Is The Biggest Problem

By: Kaylen Dornan

Homeless people scare us. They intimidate us. They uncover emotions in us that we would prefer not to experience. Although harsh, it is the sad truth. As a society, this is how most of us see the thousands of homeless people that live on our streets. It is undeniable that the homeless people of San Diego are not in the most envious of situations, and a few of them perhaps do give us reason to feel scared or uneasy, but the general disrespect and complete apathetic nature towards homeless people that is drilled into us at such a young age needs to change.

Less than three weeks ago, these feelings occurred in me. Without lying to yourself, can you honestly say that you are not familiar with feelings of resentment and anxiousness when you lay eyes on a homeless person? The homeless have made us feel nervous; they have been (and in some cases still are) linked with predominantly negative traits such as alcoholism or mental illness. That is why as a society, we have been raised to label these individuals, to avoid eye contact, stay far away from homeless communities in “bad areas,” and steer clear of any interaction with the homeless if we can avoid it. However, in this day and age, the homeless are breaking the stereotype. They are now families, elderly women, single mothers, twenty-something men; the list goes on and on. The everyday citizens of San Diego need to realize that the face of homelessness is changing right before our eyes.

Due to the recession, more and more people find themselves ending up on the streets of San Diego. Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau have shown that 14.5 percent of San Diegans live below the poverty level, compared with 12.5 percent in the entire United States (Calbreath). Not only do we disrespect these people who are in a financially unstable state, but they also have no place to turn to for medical attention or a bed to sleep in for a few nights. The increasing number of people without basic necessities needs to be addressed before the problem escalates.

The San Diego City Council recognizes this, as talks for a permanent homeless shelter downtown took place on April 20th. The chair of the committee, Councilman Todd Gloria, said, “…the time to act is now.” The shelter would offer many different services within the same building, and has a price tag of about $19.5 million (Nixon). The building is far from construction, but talking about it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

As the recession starts to die down, the true number of homeless people will become more evident. There is a certain “lag time” for the people that are unlikely candidates for homelessness (Jensen). First, it begins with losing a job, then losing a house or apartment, and then crashing on a family member or friend’s couch for as long as possible. Once the support runs out after a year or two, many will join the thousands that already call the streets home. This unavoidable increase will hopefully be seen as even more of a reason to push these permanent shelters that our City Council is contemplating past bureaucratic government “talks.”

All of the above, including my change in attitude, is admittedly new for me.  A few weeks ago, for my U.S. History class, I spent a couple of days reading about, analyzing, and forming an opinion about the homeless people of San Diego. On a printed piece of paper, the thousands of suffering people are just that: statistics on a page. The personal connection just was not there. After feeling like I was hitting a dead end, I received a text message that took my simple history project to a much more personal and meaningful level. All it said was “lunches for the homeless tomorrow?” This could not have been better timing. Armed with a notebook and a camera (and about 50 lunches), a group of students, a teacher and I set out to hand out lunches to homeless living all around the downtown area. I will admit, I was nervous, but that changed as soon as I decided to make the most of the experience. What I thought I knew about homeless people was instantaneously contradicted. I met really “normal” people, just trying to make it from day to day. People that were in school, people that held part time jobs, and a woman that was primarily concerned with the health and safety of a baby duck that thought she was its mother. These people were grounded, healthy, interesting individuals who just found themselves in the unfortunate situation of losing a source of income. It could happen to any of us, which makes it even more unfortunate is that our society is not willing explore the real people behind the statistics- the true victims of the epidemic that is occurring in our own backyards.

The apathetic and nervous nature that I had about homeless people was reversed in just three short hours. I admittedly went from being almost completely close-minded to having a greater understanding and empathy to the current plight of the homeless. I hope that we will all see a desperately needed change in ourselves. As a society, we need to see this social change. We need to see the homeless shelter turn from talks to real physical action. We need to see any type of change in the way the homeless are viewed or addressed. Change- especially for this topic- can come in many personal forms. Whether this is advocating for the new shelter, volunteering time at a food bank or relief center, or even simply handing out lunches one Saturday a month, the effort can- and will- make a difference. The important thing to recognize is this change can only come from within ourselves, because we have spent too long waiting for someone to change this for us.

Works Cited:

Calbreath, Dean. “Census Shows More People Living Below Poverty Level.” union tribune [san diego] 27 Aug. 2004: n. pag. Signonsandiego.com. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.

Jensen, Rachel. Phone interview. 21 Apr. 2010.

Nixon, Chris. “Downtown Homeless Center Draws Praise, Raises Concerns.” San Diego News Network 21 Apr. 2010: n. pag. San Diego News Network Online. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.

Powell, Ronald. “Tally of ’05-’07 Homeless in Region Likely Outdated.” San Diego Union Tribune 14 Jan. 2009: n. pag. Sign On San Diego. Web. 17 Apr. 2010.

Toti, Nancy. “Time To See The Homeless As People.” San Diego Union Tribune 6 Dec. 2009, sec. Opinion: n. pag. Sign On San Diego. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.

Westlin, Martin. “Put the Homeless Shelter Downtown, and Do It Quickly.” San Diego News Networks 9 Oct. 2010, sec. Opinion: n. pag. San Diego News Network Online. Web. 20 Apr. 2010.

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