“Our Living Embodiment of Compassion Would Have Loved Them the Most”
By Jason Miller
They [homeless people] are constructed ideologically to be oppressed to the level of losing their humanity. It is not by chance it is a design.
-Bruno De Oliveira, Constructed To Rot: A Critical Reflection On Homelessness
EVERY FOURTH PERSON YOU SEE IN THIS VIDEO HAS SCHIZOPHRENIA, SCHIZOAFFECTIVE DISORDER, OR BIPOLAR DISORDER.
EVERY THIRD PERSON YOU SEE SELF MEDICATES WITH ALCOHOL.
EVERY FOURTH PERSON YOU SEE SELF MEDICATES WITH DRUGS.
Filmed via police dashcam, these are the residents of Skid Row (population 4,757 in 2019).
They don’t have the things that most of us do, and, if we are honest, take for granted. “Little things” like roofs over their heads, AC, heat, safe drinking water, the security and comfort of a house or apartment, toilets, showers, refrigerators and cupboards full of food, clean, abundant clothes, access to health care, support networks, jobs or other sources of income, and much more.
No. Not “those people.” They are the most marginalized, neglected, abandoned, and forgotten members of our society. They are the shadow people. The forgotten ones. The disposables. Again, if we’re honest, for those of us with a conscience, the sight of them triggers a confusing mixture of feelings.
“Survivor’s guilt” in a dog eat dog economy. Fear, as in “that could be me” in a social structure where most of us have a very tenuous grip on financial security. Revulsion, as we have been indoctrinated to shame the poor in our infinitely cruel “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” paradigm.
Perhaps the biggest irony here is that we like to call ourselves a Christian nation (and many of us revere Jesus as a great prophet and human being even if we don’t worship him). And yet the people in this video (and hundreds of thousands of others across our nation) would have drawn Jesus like a magnet. And many of them would probably have become his greatest disciples.
Meanwhile, through shuttering institutions that could treat and care for them (rather than reforming them), preventing family members and care givers from making sound, healthy decisions to foster their well being when they are incapable of doing so, and failing to create a robust social safety net that could have prevented their free fall into Hell (or provide them the means to escape it), we ensure that they are banished to an existence so miserable that most of us could barely begin to imagine it.
As a functioning member of society who has all of my needs and many of my wants met, and as a person who has struggled mightily to stay afloat since I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 1993, and as a person who has struggled with dual addictions, I feel a powerful tug on my heart strings when I see “my people,” who have essentially been tossed in the garbage and left to suffer and die.
Despite many of us doing what we can as individuals, it will take a massive collective effort fueled by compassion for these human beings, a recognition that they have illnesses and that their plight isn’t their fault, and a recognition that they are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and generally members of the human family.
In these turbulent times, we are being rightly encouraged to use our white privilege to help crush the bulwarks of structural racism.
In the spirit of intersectionality, I encourage all of us with class and mental health privilege to do all we can to combat the twin evils of structural poor shaming and structural ableism.
Here are some resources: