This semester in my Race, Gender and the Media class, we watched a documentary concerning homelessness and a close look at the personal lives of families struggling financially and on the verge of losing everything they owned. It was really moving, enough to make me consider to possibly seek working for a nonprofit dedicated to helping the issue of homelessness in the United States, which is unfortunately much higher than you would expect for a first world country.
Quick statistics, from the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.
- In the U.S., more than 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year.
- 35% of the homeless population are families with children, which is the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.
- 23% are U.S. military veterans.
- 25% are children under the age of 18 years.
- 30% have experienced domestic violence.
- 20-25% suffer from mental illness.
- In urban communities, people experience homelessness for an average of eight months.
This isn’t a post to discuss the issue of poverty in the United States however, because I don’t think I am well educated enough to try and inform others about it quite yet; this post is about how some people are quick to judge, but not to act. When we watched that documentary in class, throughout it students pointed out mothers who had their nails done, or a woman who got pregnant and apparently, shouldn’t have. This class that is usually very positively progressive and indulged in fair and unbiased discussions, suddenly became judgmental and mean when the credits rolled in. Instead of focusing on the methods of becoming involved and helping the issue of homelessness, students decided to feel like they had the right to criticize the way other people lived their lives. The viewer of the documentary had no knowledge to predict how the mother living in the Salvation Army got her nails, or should it had been any of the viewer’s initial business. I would like to think she may have gotten them done them herself, or had been saving up to treat herself, despite the conditions of her life because everybody deserves to act upon their human selfishness to make themselves happy, but maybe that’s because I like to think the best of others before jumping to the conclusion that she’d rather spend money on her nails than food on her children. As for the married mother of two who suffered from critical anxiety that detained her from being employed, and got pregnant, instead of shaking heads and suggesting abortion because the family couldn’t possibly afford another mouth to feed, we should be glad she felt joy in welcoming a possible beacon of hope into her life. The woman herself said she felt less stress when she was a mother, and although yes the financial burden of another child will be a tough situation to handle, but it is no one has the right to tell another person if they should get an abortion.
The purpose of the documentary was not to invite viewers to judge the lifestyle and choices that homeless individuals make, but inform and educate on the issue and ways to become involved and help. I don’t think I have ever found myself more disappointed from the reactions of a large group of people the way I did during the end of that class session. The discussions we were having were not the shock of the rise of homelessness or the gravity of the situation, but ways these families could have possibly “avoided” it. Humans make mistakes, it is not up to anyone to judge those mistakes, but instead, seek out ways to resolve, help and fix them. It should not matter why someone became homeless, or should anyone desensitize an issue because they think someone’s choices who were too “stupid”. It’s natural for people to judge, we all have a mind of our own, but to judge first before acting in situations like resolving the homelessness, especially for children, is just heartbreaking. I hope everyone walked out and later realized that looking past other’s mistakes and instead sought to help them move past them is the humane solution to take.