Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Distressing Disguise

It's amazing what you find when you read the whole newspaper. On page C-9 of today's Oregonian there was a story about government agencies sweeping the forest outside our metropolis to root out the transient population.

After describing one campsite where the resident apparently had been living for months in a tent surrounded by excrement, U.S. Forest Service officer Dan Blythe commented, "Imagine a dog-walker coming across this. It's not pretty."

Yes, God forbid that a dog-walker should be inconvienced by the presence of a homeless man. What would the neighbors say?

The article went on to talk about how the undeveloped area was attractive to those seeking recreation "as well as those looking for a place to camp, and do their drugs and drink." Vague descriptions of ecological and criminal problems followed.

Twenty transient camps were hauled away, one person was arrested and three were offered help by the Department of Human Services.

Now I don't doubt that the homeless people can present a safety threat to those who happen across them, and I'm sure that they need help that they don't want. But I was offended by the way the article characterized these homeless people primarily as a nuiscance to clean-cut middle class people who wanted to hunt, hike and walk their dogs.

This is the problem with the homeless. They're a foul-smelling, unattractive, mean-tempered lot. If Aunt Bea was homeless, we'd help her in a second, but the group we do find on the streets, well, we'd rather brush them under a carpet somewhere, though not in our nice, cozy recreational areas!

This is the challenge of helping the poor and the disenfranchized. We don't have the luxury of helping some sentamentalized story-book version of the poor. We have to help the real poor, the people we actually find living on the streets.

It's hard to remain upstanding and respectable, a defender of family values, and also stand with the poor. Maybe we have to choose.

"While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-Eugene V. Debs


John C. said...

I have always loved that quote by Debs.

mindflame said...

There is nothing upstanding and respectable about being callous to the suffering of others. I agree we have to help the real poor and not some ideal of poverty. My experience has taught me that as you get closer to these people you see how respectable some of society’s lowest people can be. It brings to mind how Jesus reached out and touched lepers to heal them and was not afraid of their filthiness. It is that kind of up close and personal compassion we should model as followers. However, I strongly disagree with the idea that defending the poor is in anyway contrary to defending moral values. Agape love is a “family value”.

Andy said...

Of course, you're right, mindflame. Helping the needy never goes against true moral values no matter how far from society's expectations they have fallen.

But I feel like sometimes a desire to maintain an outward show of respectability holds us back from doing what needs to be done.

LutheranChik said...

I find, in some Christian circles, a mindset intent on fixing blame for individuals' homelessness and other distress, instead of helping the people. Maybe one person's homelessness is due to something beyond his or her control like mental illness or pure bad luck; maybe another's situation is due to making poor choices. So what?