Respect the homeless

There is a beef I have long had with we, the affluent members of Western, specifically North American, society. It stems from an arrogance, an ignorance and a self-righteousness that disgusts me. It is our treatment of and attitude towards the homeless.

Just for shits and giggles, once exams are all said and done, head down to Stephen Avenue and sit on a bench for half an hour. Watch the way passersby treat the panhandlers they come across, the impoverished they encounter. Some unload their spare change while others politely apologize and decline the request.

Neither of these reactions rub me the wrong way.

No, the people who piss me off enough to put pen to paper (or in this case fingers to keyboard) are those who ignore the downtrodden, as if they didn’t exist. Or worse, those who challenge or belittle them.

What does talking down to a panhandler achieve? What does challenging a homeless person prove? That you have more than they do? That you have made better decisions in your life than they have? That you sleep more soundly at the end of the day?

Great. Good for you. And this helps them how? Maybe I should ask the Premier…

With the weather as cold and bitter as it is, with all the holiday cheer and gluttonous consumerism, think of how the man sleeping under a train bridge must feel. As you hustle and bustle about, sipping your latte, buying electronic widgets for your loved ones, take a second and consider the vast difference between your existence and that of the voice requesting your pennies.

I’m not saying this as a bleeding heart or as some social crusader. I’m saying it as a human being.

The people we pass, the people we avoid, the people we pity–they are all people, and that’s the bottom line. Some may have done this to themselves, some may be victims of circumstance, but they all have childhoods, memories and, as is evidenced by their very existence, the will to continue on for another day.

I am not asking you to welcome them into your homes or offer them room and board. I am merely asking you to treat them with the respect they deserve, as human beings. You don’t have to like them, just don’t go out of your way to make their difficult lives even more difficult. It accomplishes nothing.

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