ART BY ANNA MACIAS
By JUSTIN YEH
Take a seat on any public bench, and there is little doubt that you will find yourself uncomfortable. If these benches discourage you from continuing to sit, then the government — the face of society — has done its job properly.
More often than not, the uncomfortable design of the bench is to deter the homeless from sleeping or resting there, and this harsh rejection of the homeless population is one of the nation’s greatest epidemics. There is a constant dehumanization of vagrants, as if they are a distinct and detested part of society.
At first glance, it is clear that even the government does not want the homeless integrated into society. To hide these drifters from the public eye, the government implements subtle designs in everyday structures, ranging from metal spikes to armrest railings. Metal spikes built into the ground outside apartment buildings hinder the homeless from sleeping in the area, while benches with large armrests and railings between seats prevent people from lying down.
As a result of the criminal addict stigma associated with being homeless, there is a social fear and disgust that continues to segregate the homeless from the rest of society. The homeless are removed and forced out of the social network, causing an isolation that has yet to be understood; whatever the cause, a lack of understanding is responsible for the prejudice against the homeless.
Give a homeless man a clean shave and a respectable suit and he is no longer a stereotypical vagrant, impossible to recognize and unquestionably accepted by society. In a strikingly appearance-based world, where books are consistently judged by their covers, anyone can become anything, and even the homeless can become a model citizen.
This idea was famously tested by YouTuber NorniTube when he conducted a social experiment examining how pedestrians would react if he collapsed dressed as a businessman as opposed to collapsing as a homeless man.
As one may have predicted, not a single passerby helped NorniTube when he was dressed to look homeless. Some people appeared slightly concerned, but most walked past without turning a head. Even when he called out for help, no one was willing to interact with this “homeless man.” Unsurprisingly, when NorniTube dressed in a suit and collapsed in the identical situation, the reactions were stunningly different. Assistance poured in as pedestrians rushed to help the respectable businessman.
The simply social experiment is a testament to the way society works today and pinpoints the exact problem homeless people face with the odds stacked against them. If only the world were willing to shed the pervasive stigmas around the homeless population, measures taken to prevent mistreatment of the less fortunate might be more effective.
Alas, this line of action has been ignored, with society looking instead to shuttle all blame and disparagement onto the homeless, using generalizations like the ever popular drug-addict argument to unfairly describe the entire group.
The fact of the matter is, many view these social outcasts as too lazy to find a job and support themselves. Of course, it is always simpler for society as a whole to presume that the homeless are responsible for their own ill-fated circumstance. After all, they have as equal of a chance of finding a job as any other person, right?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Jobs are not always available in every neighborhood, and as an added difficulty, there may be barriers to getting a job without having a home or an address. Homeless people, who do not have a mailing address or permanent residency, find themselves at a disadvantage from step one, when employers sort through applications for potential employees. Employers become dismayed by the supposed lack of legitimacy and reliability regarding the homeless candidate.
Even when plausible solutions arise, the public is still reluctant to help the outcasts. Recently, Mercy Housing, a nonprofit housing provider, had originally planned to turn the Golden Motel in Temple City into supportive housing for formerly and current homeless veterans. The project faced extensive opposition from a group of Temple City residents, who protested at City Council meetings. Members of the group expressed concerns that the homeless housing would decrease property values, increase crime in the vicinity of the area, and endanger schoolchildren walking past it. The opposition in part caused Mercy to withdraw its application–largely due to a lack of societal understanding about the homeless dilemma between society and the homeless.
Of course, homelessness is a pervasive problem, so finding a suitable solution will not be simple. However, there are better ways to deal with the issue than mindlessly deterring the homeless. While not every city may be able to provide local services for the vagrants in their neighborhood, individuals have the power to erase the detrimental stigma associated with being homeless. Only then will we be able to move forward as a truly unified country.