(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
The Webb Schools

Opinion: The problem with how homelessness is perceived

Walking the streets of L.A. tells the story of American inequality, and a politically and culturally supported class disparity. Over 44,000 people live unsheltered in L.A. county, according to the L.A. Homeless Services Authority.

Somehow, this issue is time and time again put off to be addressed later.

This humanitarian crisis is dehumanizing because of this deep-rooted, capitalistic sense in America that tells people that since everything is supposedly fair, “you made this money yourself with hard work.” Some people believe the logical explanation for the homeless being homeless is because they are lazy or drug addicts or gamblers that are a product of their own decrepit will to work hard.

American exceptionalism exists only in ideals as an opportunity cannot be equal, inheritance is unfair, and upbringing cannot be the same. 

I remember when I was in the fifth grade, my school took a field trip to downtown, to visit a museum. At a very young age, I never had a conception of politics or inequality, and my understanding of the world around me on a large scale was extremely limited (like most fifth-graders).

We went to the museum, I didn’t think much of it, other than being bored (probably because romantic paintings and sculptures had no bearing on my life and still don’t). I don’t remember anything from that field trip.

On the way back, we returned back to school passing through Pomona, and there was a homeless man with a sign. It read that he was a veteran with no job and no money to feed himself. I opened the window to hand the man the $5 my mother gave me that morning, and my teacher stopped me. I remember very clearly that he told me, “don’t give him money. You can’t trust him, he will probably spend it on drugs.” 

I’m definitely many people who have had this experience in some form. I have no idea if I gave that man the money, where he would spend it, but there is this dehumanizing distrust and disregard for these people begging. To some extent, I believe they are right because strangers could be dangerous, but it is unacceptable that it manifests as an unwillingness to help the less fortunate.

Homelessness in L.A. can only change when fundamental cultural ideals do as well. In the home and at schools we preach kindness and love, yet when it comes to dealing with the unfortunate, that treatment is lost.

The existence of high levels of homelessness in L.A. county is proof that kindness in most is superficial, only in the most convenient and safe of situations. It can only change when people begin to put others in front of their own pursuit of happiness and money.

Skid Row and the stable population of 2,783 homeless people that live there must become not an embarrassment for the city but instead a symbol of inequality. A change of perspective is needed kindness and understanding must become virtues, not only to the fortunate, so that humanity becomes valued over any monetary or superficial desires.