The all-too-common portrayal of homeless people in Hyannis as junkies and criminals is bothering me a lot. I have had enough. Demonizing people is contrary to what I believe and what HAC stands for.
The difference, it seems to me, is that people who are homeless make us uncomfortable. They are “different” from us and we don’t know why. Sometimes they remind us how lucky we are and how much we don’t want to be like them. It is easier to blame the person rather than try to understand the issues that led them there in the first place.
Not all homeless people are the same. But many are in their situation through mental illness, addiction, divorce, injury, poverty or a combination of those factors. They need and deserve our help.
The fact is that just the presence of the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis bothers some people. I suspect that when people drive by at about 4 in the afternoon and there is a line waiting to get into the facility some people find it repulsive and some are even afraid.
I have met many homeless people in my lifetime, and we at HAC have helped lots of them. The fact is that they are people just like us. They have the same hopes and dreams that we all do, only they have often failed where you and I may have had better opportunities to succeed. We expect to be treated well wherever we go. If you are homeless, you never expect a warm smile and friendly treatment.
One of our long-time staff members believes that a very high percentage of the heads of households of homeless families in our shelters spent time while growing up in foster homes. Even more, up to 90%, were physically abused, sexually or otherwise, and a similar number have experienced drug or alcohol addiction. Most did not graduate from high school.
How many of us would be comfortably settled in our own homes now if we had those experiences as a part of our background growing up? We need to remember that our own point of view is always different than the point of view of others. For example, a car speeds by us on the highway. Is it a bad driver or an emergency on the way to the hospital? We don’t know.
When we pass a person who appears homeless on the street in Hyannis, we don’t know either.