December 15, 2005

The Homeless Deserve Respect

By Jamie Nash, The Easterner; Eastern Washington U. via University Wire

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, although until quite recently I had never realized it. I was raised to believe that everyone has an equal playing field and if you work hard you can achieve anything. I wish that were true.

A year ago I decided to start volunteering at a homeless shelter in downtown Spokane. My first night volunteering at Hope House Women's Shelter was one of the most emotional events of my life. I watched as women of every shape and sort were brought together in their hopes for warm places to sleep. When I got back to my apartment that night I laid in bed and cried. I felt so ignorant, naive, spoiled, selfish and confused. I felt like I had lived my entire life in a neat little bubble and was completely clueless to reality.

Two months after my first emotional night volunteering at Hope House a job position opened and I was hired. It would be impossible for me to write all that I want to say about my journey working at a homeless shelter. Some days I go to work thinking that I have heard just about every evil or hurtful possibility that humankind can inflict upon one another, and then a new client comes in and shares her story and I feel completely broken again. It is a true emotional roller coaster. Working at Hope House and seeing the women who stay there has become one of the most important and formative experiences of my life. I love what I do and I love who I do it with.

I know that many people feel that people are homeless only because they are lazy and addicted to drugs. This has not been my experience. The women that I have worked with have come from a wide range of circumstances, however I feel that the most common factor is mental illness. It seems so unjust to me that some people are born with mental illnesses (schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality, Down syndrome, etc.) that are totally out of their control, and slip through the cracks of the system and wind up living on the streets.

I write this piece now because I am deeply concerned about an article in last week's Easterner. The article I am referring to was about Eastern student Gabriel Brown and his project, "Beggar Inc." Ironically, I have driven by Mr. Brown on several mornings as I leave my work at Hope House to attend my 9 a.m. class on campus. Mr. Brown states that, "the image of a well-off man acting as a panhandler is meant to make people think." Well I have given Mr. Brown and his project much critical thought and I cannot help but conclude that Gabriel Brown is out to mock the homeless population in Spokane.

Brown refers to his project as a "performance art/social experiment/daily ritual" and as "entertainment at its core." I doubt those individuals who live on cold Spokane streets, who are constantly being belittled, beaten, robbed and raped, who have been abandoned and abused by friends and family, who squeeze everything they own into two plastic grocery sacks (and then are continuously taunted for doing so), would refer to their struggle for survival as "entertainment at its core."

What sickened me most about the article "Brother can you spare a stock option?" was the picture of Gabriel Brown performing his "morning routine" of dumpster diving. I am reminded of one morning when I saw a woman my age digging through the dumpster behind Hope House. I approached her and asked what she was looking for. She turned beet red and began apologizing. I asked if I could help and she told me that she sometimes came to the dumpster to look for shampoo and conditioner as she "wasn't allowed to buy any." I went inside and returned with a bottle of each. She gave me an earnest smile, a bashful "thank you" and left. I personally cannot imagine how humiliating it must be to dig through a dumpster to try and find daily essentials. I feel that dumpster diving is a desperate means and we should not add further insult by mocking our brothers and sisters who feel desperate enough to do it.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I honestly hope that I have misunderstood the purpose of Mr. Brown's project. I hope that Mr. Brown is not trying to intentionally add more pain into the lives of the homeless. I also hope that Gabriel Brown gave the $16.72 he has made from standing on the corner to people who could really use it. Finally, I hope that all of you readers take the time to truly count your blessings during this holiday season, and if you feel so inclined, possibly give a little back.


i 100% agree with you. I have at many points in my life been homeless on the streets of downtown spokane because i have a huge list of mental disabilities and my family can not handle it and i cant get any help from the government (they wont give it to me) and most likely will be homeless or dead very shortly for the fact that my family doesnt give a rat about me and are about to kick me out for the hundredth time

Posted by: Jen at February 4, 2007 06:19 PM

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