Understanding homelessness

By Ryan Fitzgerald – Co-Editor-in-Chief

A few weeks ago I was walking the streets of Boston when I noticed a mother and son standing next to a homeless man. The mother was leaning over talking to the man while her son held a pizza box to the man offering him to take it. When the man reached and took the pizza, you could see the gratitude on his face. The man could have had a mental illness, could have been an alcoholic, or maybe a drug addict. I do know that he is a human though, just like all homeless people, and all of us.

This came to my mind as this past week Hope for Humanity focused on educating students on homelessness by hosting a number of events on campus, like making sandwiches to be delivered to the homeless in Boston. I commend this group and other students involved for taking initiative on this issue because I believe it is not given enough attention across the nation.

I think many people see the homeless as lesser humans. We may be in school, have a job, and have a stable life while we assume these people must have done something terribly wrong in their life to end up on the street with no other options.

But we must understand they may have lived with unfortunate circumstances. They may have a mental illness and some think for this they don’t belong anywhere but the street. This is the wrong view of an issue that needs understanding from everyone.

Homelessness is more complex than most people are aware of and therefore pass judgment.

I’m an advocate for the belief that addiction is a legitimate illness. A person’s personality, upbringing, genetic tendencies, environment, a possible injury or accident, trauma or other factors create an addiction. I think we as a people need to understand this. We need to understand that these are people with different circumstances than us yet like us, they are human.

I am also an advocate for mental health awareness. I think mental illness is an extremely important issue in our state and country that needs a better solution in a system that makes it difficult for mentally ill people to find their way. There are many advocacies and treatment for cancer and other illnesses that are just as important and should continue to grow. I just don’t think there is enough awareness and opportunities for the mentally ill to find help.

I have experiences with family members whom suffer from mental illness. One has lived as a homeless man for a part of his life, although he is now living in a temporary group home. It is temporary and he could end up back on the street in Hyannis on Cape Cod if changes are not made in the mental health field. These people have very limited options for assistance.

Most think of the Cape as their summer destination while for some year-round residents it is a trap they can’t seem to escape. According to CapeCod.com, the homeless population in Hyannis alone is now reaching 300 people and growing. That’s a lot for a small town. I cringe when I hear tourists complain of this issue as I know each homeless person has a story to tell, a life to live, including my family member. If only visitors understood maybe they would offer help.

So I ask readers, the next time you see a homeless person on the T or the street, when you’re on vacation and see someone wandering the streets, please do not judge them or complain. Do not degrade them. You don’t have to offer them pizza or money, but realize they are human too. If we can all have more understanding I think it will help us progress as a people.

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