On March 3rd, I was in a fairly severe car accident in downtown Peterborough. As this is a small town, the media was quick to cover it making me one of the top stories of the day. Though I wrote off my car and should most likely be dead, I walked away with mild ouchies. I spent the night in the hospital and was unaware that my accident had drawn so much attention on social media. In the morning I received a number of text messages from friends asking if I knew what was being said about me on Facebook.
I checked the Peterborough Examiner Facebook page and under my accident found many negative comments about me (though at the time I was referred to as unknown driver). It was implied by a man I have never met before that it was obvious that I was drunk and on drugs (not that it needs to be said, but I was not). Another man accused me of being a hoarder because the back of my car was filled with what he described as crap (reality is they were clothes and other donations I had collected for the Warming Room). Neither of these men (or the others) knew me personally. They made assumptions based on my age and gender.
The point of this story (I know it’s not actually all about me this time) is that we often do the same thing to those who are homeless. How many times have we passed them on the streets and thought they must be there due to alcohol, drugs or their own life choices? Many times we know nothing of their stories yet we make snap judgements. I don’t think I realized how much these snap judgements hurt. I knew they were wrong about me and the opinion of strangers should not effect me but they did. My heart broke a little bit. It’s the same for those who are homeless. Many of us don’t know their stories but we judge anyways. I think part of it is human nature. Part of it is the poor portrayal of the homeless in the media (movies, TV etc). We don’t know them but we cross the street to avoid them, we don’t give change as we think it will be spent on drugs and we often assume their “sob stories” are made up. I will shamefully admit that I have done this before. I was wrong.
There is a quote that says “The first thought that goes through your head is what we have been conditioned to think. The second defines who we are.” We have been conditioned to judge the homeless on what we have been told but we are wrong. I hope this opens at least one person’s eyes that we should not listen to our first thought we have when we see someone who’s homeless. We should think about them as people who have feelings, who have lived and maybe sit to talk with them about their stories.
It will not be easy for us to stop making snap judgements. Hell I do it all the time, but together and working on it I believe that we can change the way we think. Together we can repair the way we have been taught to judge. We are the people that can change this world. Even if it is just one person who reads this and changes how they think, remember a single pebble can make a ripple effect in the calmest of waters. Let’s be that pebble.