Everyone deserves dignity

street roots editorial

With their worn clothing, ragged rucksacks, plastic shopping bags, Army surplus blankets, weather-beaten faces, and rough language homeless people clearly stand out. Though they pose little threat, their visible presence unnerves our tidy sensibilities. Personal and private activities that most of us are able to conduct within the sanctuary of our homes or offices, the homeless are obliged to perform in public. Laying down to rest. Serious Illness. Personal hygiene. Trade. Entertainment. Waste elimination. Sex. Drinking. Domestic disputes. Expressing anger. Recovering from grief.

We see such actions and become irate. How indecent! Yet, how many of us stop to consider that people on the street don't have the luxury of walls and ceilings to grant them privacy? And what about the countless other essentials that homeless people must forgo! Simple things like regular showers, changes of clothing, storage for personal belongings, local phone calls, or even moments of privacy are sorely missed by people obliged to live on the streets.

Numbering several hundred at any given moment, the visibly homeless are but a piece of a much larger local picture. On a typical day in Portland, over 6,000 adults, youth, and children experience homelessness in less obvious circumstances. They're living in cars, doubling up with friends or family, camping under camouflage, occupying tiny rooms, loitering at the mall, huddling under overpasses, going to school, pursuing employment, engaged in recovery, or volunteering simply to have a warm place during the day. Just because they're not on the street doesn't mean that they aren't equally suffering the indignities of not being housed.

It is essential to remember that people experiencing homelessness are simply people. Like the rest us, they may have made mistakes. Perhaps they made poor choices. Unfortunately, these people have also encountered circumstances from which they could not readily recover. Most of us don't realize that we, too, are merely a single emergency or a missed paycheck away from experiencing a similar fate. Homeless people don't deserve to be demonized simply because they have fallen though the communal safety net. No one does. Naturally, public lawlessness should be dealt with, but we must be careful not to punish the whole based upon the transgressions of a few.

street roots is adamant that homeless people, especially those currently on the streets, be entitled to the same degree of dignity that we accord the securely housed. It behooves every one of us to ensure that the laws we support and the unintended consequences of our actions don't unduly penalize other people simply for lacking the choices that most of us enjoy by default.