The Invisible: why we should care.


November 10, 2016 by Cláudia


When looking at a homeless person, most people will assume their situation is somehow their fault, a result of their actions. Plus, everyone has their own struggles, their own worries and difficulties – that’s legitimate. But to ignore such a state of misery is to show a complete misunderstanding of what being a homeless really means.

It means complete loneliness. No one to talk to, no one that cares, most times not even someone to look in the eyes. It means feeling complete misery, having no hope of a better life. Constantly looking at other people living their busy lives indifferent to them. Living on the streets, constantly swallowing the pride to literally beg for survival and live solely on other people’s pity. No future, no projects, no political ideology, no values, no friends, nothing. Just the today and the struggle for survival. Complete misery. No hope.

Can you imagine? Answering truthfully, I say that I can’t and hopefully you cannot either. But we can try. And who in their right mind would chose to live like that? Most people act as if it was a choice. As if they really wanted they would rebuild their lives. But that’s false: if we don’t help them, at least a large majority will never have a chance of a better life. That’s why we have so much responsibility and power.

Homelessness is not a choice. It’s a consequence of one or many bad situations: mental illness, drug addiction, isolation, poor social environments… At times mental illness is the cause of homelessness or other times it’s the consequence: homelessness invariably leads to some kind of mental disturbance. Drug addiction is one of the main causes, followed by alcoholism.

But does this have to mean they made their own choice so they have to live with it forever? Are we never conditioned to make bad decisions? Can we really not imagine a situation in which we would end in their place?

There are so many factors involved and to make assumptions about their lives is just intrusive and frankly an excuse not to do anything. I don’t know where I would be if I had a different childhood – and no one can know. Several situations could lead to complete despair. Whether they made bad choices or not, they are still in a very vulnerable place and in a desperate need for help.

Blaming them for their own situation as the only factor involved is unfair and pointless. And even if it was their own fault, does that mean they now have to live an entire life (the only life they get to live, as far as we’re concerned) in misery? Don’t they get to have a second chance? How intrusive it is to make assumptions about people we don’t know in order to justify our despise for their miserable conditions.

They are human beings – just like us. And by this I don’t mean they are either good or bad people, I also don’t think it should matter. Being a good person is not a requirement for having a basic level of comfort. But being a person should be – then they decide their own path.

They are human being – just like us, yet we distance ourselves from them. As if it could never be us. We don’t want to acknowledge them so that we don’t accept that it could in fact be us. Or perhaps we ignore them because accepting that society allows this kind of disparities is too inconvenient.

Their presence is inconvenient – they remind us that while we are living our lives – better or worse – some people are not. They’re stuck and that’s upsetting to us. I’ve heard people say they wanted the homeless out of the street for their own personal sake – it is too painful to see them.

But that’s not why we should care – otherwise we would just put them where nobody could see them. We should care because we all know what pain feels like. In different intensities, we’ve all felt it. Looking deeply into their eyes, we just know their pain is endless. They differ so much from us – they are dirty, they aren’t citizens, they often aren’t in their right minds. But we share one thing and that’s bigger than everything else – our Humanity and with it, our ability to feel.

We can debate all we want whether they deserve to be helped, whether they caused or not their situation. But isn’t it more urgent to actually do something and try to give them a chance at happiness? While we are making excuses for not acting, lives are being wasted in completely pointless and excruciatingly painful existences. 

Life is a huge gamble and our future isn’t dependent solely upon our acting. Everyday, for better or worse, external factors intervene and change our life’s course. And when I look at the people in the streets, all I could think is that it could be me. Or a loved one. And I could be all alone and no one would truly help me. Just try for a minute to put yourself in their shoes: wouldn’t you deserve a second chance?

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