The Entitled Homeless

16 Apr

The number of people experiencing homelessness is growing exponentially as we watch and witness homeless camps popping up in both urban and rural areas across the United States. The entitlement I see with this community is astonishing! I’ve noticed that people experiencing homelessness have the audacity to want to be treated as human beings and want access to food, shelter, clothing, and access to hygiene and the ability to just go to the bathroom. There is an expectation that they be recognized, seen as human beings, perhaps even deign to make eye contact.

Sadly, the culture that is well established here is that we have created a narrative that not only vilifies people who are homeless, but we have managed to vilify poverty and to create insurmountable barriers for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. I also want to acknowledge the disproportionality of targeted communities that intersect with being homeless–the overrepresentation of the LGBTQ community and people of color.

What prompted me to write this article was a string of recent events I witnessed. On my way back from Medford, Oregon where I was doing an equity and inclusion workshop, I stopped at the Burger King to grab a bite to eat before heading back to Portland. While sitting in the restaurant eating my lunch, I saw a young man enter the building and go directly to the bathroom. (I had just used the bathroom and it only accommodates one person at a time, so one has to lock the door) Behind me, there was a man that I would guess was in his mid 50’s, white, heterosexual, cisgender, with a shirt that said “Jesus loves me.” This man threw a fit that the young man got to the bathroom before him. He threw such a tantrum that he started banging on the bathroom door and demanded the young man get out. He then proceeded to demand to see the manager of the restaurant where he went into a rage that was so loud everyone could hear him. He screamed at the manager: “There’s some homeless kid that ran into the bathroom and now he has locked himself in there–he has no business being in there and you need to get him out!”

Of course, this sparked my own rage and the need to intercede. As I watched the manager and now two other employees banging on the bathroom door, I approached the manager and explained that first, the man throwing the tantrum does not know if the young man is homeless or not, and that secondly and more importantly, he has the right to use the bathroom regardless. Homeless people have the right to go to the bathroom! I would love to say that the manager and the two employees heard me and backed away to allow this person to use the bathroom with a modicum of dignity. Most unfortunately, they did not.

Last week, I was doing an equity workshop in downtown Eugene, Oregon. I went to get a coffee at the Starbucks. There are a critical number of homeless people around this particular Starbucks. I needed to use the bathroom and — quite disturbing to me — one has to have a code to use the bathroom. It is very clear that this now common practice of putting coded locks on bathroom facilities is to prevent people who are homeless from having access. I must confess, this whole absurd barrier is more than just mind boggling for me, for it speaks to the ugliness of just how awful humans can be. Even more tragically, these painful examples relate to just one key challenge faced by those experiencing homelessness. Our nation’s apparent intent to dehumanize them fully adds burden after burden.

More disturbing is that because of the recent overhaul of the social structuring of the United States in the grotesque guise called the Tax Cuts, we can certainly expect the homeless population to increase. All of this begs the question of how do we care for our communities? How do we address systems that create such horrific disparities in wealth and the hoarding of wealth? How painfully ironic that Paul Ryan, one of the chief architects of the Tax Cuts/Reform, has announced that he will retire at the age of 48 after stealing safe retirement from millions, compounding the homelessness crisis. Until we can purge the inhumane from the halls of government, how can we hope to treat all people with humanity? How do we assert our individual and collective voices to remind those who work in government are civil servants–just a side note–the ship has sailed on Scott Pruitt, Paul Ryan, and most of the GOP in their understanding the notion what it means to be a civil servant.

Take Action: There are things all of us can do. Find a way to get involved with a shelter that provides services without conditions. Donate money to some of the following organizations: Sisters of the Road, Street Roots, and Central City Concern.

11 Responses to “The Entitled Homeless”

  1. Michael Daly April 16, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    Were I grew up in Australia there were public toilets provided where people congregated. If the un-discussed default now is to leave it to transnational corporations, private property and business owners then accept it that people are going to have to do what they do wherever.
    Thanks for speaking up.

  2. Central Oregon Coast NOW April 16, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.

  3. evelyneholingue April 17, 2018 at 2:53 pm #

    I’ve always believed that free access to clean restrooms is a human rights. When they are absent from most towns and cities it is only normal to seek access to pivate bathrooms, such as the ones found in stores, restaurants and cafés. It’s not only an American issue. When traveling in France I am always looking for free bathrooms and believe me they are rare. Impossible there to use one in a café if you aren’t a customer. Most are locked. In the past you had to ask for a key, now for a code.
    For anyone on the street it’s a real serious issue and nobody should have to be ashamed to ask for a bathroom and to be refused the access to one. All of us are made the same way. We need to relieve ourselves, homeless or not.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 17, 2018 at 5:38 pm #

      Evelyne, thank you for your always thoughtful comments. How sad that this seems to be who were are in the United States. Peace to you, Michael.

  4. Chelsea P April 18, 2018 at 9:39 am #

    Yes, it just makes me feel *sick* to think that the businesses that put codes on the bathroom door are so often the exact same businesses that complain when a homeless person goes to the bathroom on their front stoop.

    You have to pick one or the other, folks! People who are living outside NEED to go the bathroom SOMEWHERE. It’s a biological fact that no amount of shame can override. If you are going to lock them out of your restrooms, then you have NO right to complain when the consequences are literally left on your doorstep.

    • Chelsea P April 18, 2018 at 9:53 am #

      I year and a half ago I visited South Africa with my mother and a group of teachers from her school district. They were mostly middle class white women in their 40’s and beyond. When we visited the townships, the women traveling with me only noticed how small the little tin shacks were that the people lived in and how many of the shacks there were.

      I, on the other hand, noticed that at the end of each row of shacks, their were “porta potties,” faucets, and dumpsters provided by the government. There were also tall electric poles scattered among the shacks with an extension cord than ran to each home. Additionally, I saw that across the road the government was building apartments and, when each building was done, they filled it with families from the shacks in the order of how long they had been living there.

      So, those “poor souls” were by my eyes more fortunate in many ways than the homeless (and many housed poor folks) in America. In South Africa, they had stability and restful sleep because there weren’t being forced to pack up and move everyday for fear of being arrested. In South Africa, they had the dignity that comes with basic necessities like going to the bathroom, bathing, washing their clothes, washing dishes, etc. They had electricity and were able to power televisions and charge phones without having to sneak around public places where they are harassed or even trespassed. But most importantly, they had HOPE. They could SEE the apartments being built across the street. They knew there was an end in sight.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 18, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

        Hi Chelsea. This is a great contrast you provide for all of us. Thank you! Lots of love and peace to you.

  5. Christine Noble April 24, 2018 at 11:13 am #

    We are currently fighting an eviction of homeless people from unused private space. Not just unused, but the way the property is carved up, unusable and out of anyone’s way. Lovely Warren, our current mayor, wants the homeless to just up and disappear so developers can make big bucks selling luxury apartments downtown.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 24, 2018 at 4:49 pm #

      Christine, I always love hearing from you! I hope you are well! Yes, sadly you are addressing a theme nationwide and the culpability of capitalism. Love and peace to you!

  6. RunninglikeBanshees!!! September 8, 2019 at 9:49 am #

    Typical liberal feel sorry for me bs. Answer this. Why is it so easy for the homeless to walk up to someone who might not have much money themselves, and have an attitude when you tell them you don’t have any “extra” money for them? Why isnt it as easy for them to make a sign reading “Will “work” for food or “Need a job”. Funny, I’ve never seen one homeless person with that sign. But I’ve seen disabled people who can’t walk carry on with their lives and be just as successful and hard working as a non disabled person. I have had the homeless rip off my CDs and my backpackout of the front seat of my car and use my credit cards and try to use my social security card. I have seen them come into my work and get free clothes and rip off the movies and CDs out of their cases. Happens everyday. What you fail to mention is that alot of these homeless people are where they are at because they refuse to change their bad behavior and attitude. Not all but alot. What the hell else do they want for free? I was homeless in Los Angeles for almost two years and every waking moment I was at the library looking for a job and shelter. I didn’t make my situation worse by acting like a degenerate piece of shit.

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