The moment you become homeless, you lose all your worth. You are stripped down to what society deems as having little to no value.
It was during my crisis that someone I considered a friend suggested I was not “a good person” because I “let homelessness happen” to me. Once homelessness became part of my identity, I was no longer someone who could be respected or trusted. I suppose that is because homelessness is often believed to be the direct result of poor character. In other’s eyes, my homelessness was nothing more than a consequence of bad choices, or simply not being very bright.
Negative messaging like this prevent us from pushing past the very stereotypes that harm homeless people – stereotypes such as “immoral,” “criminal,” “lazy” or “stupid”. Each day we fail to reject these messages, each day we refuse to fight them, we prolong income inequality, classism, and the homeless crisis.
One word I often hear associated with homeless people is “parasite” – something that feeds, that takes, yet gives nothing in return. It’s wrong to assume homeless people have nothing to give.
Love, compassion and community are valuable beyond measure. All these qualities are abundant within the homeless community, and it doesn’t stop there.
During the six months I spent at Park View, a family shelter in Harlem, I experienced more acts of solidarity and mutual aid than at any other point in my life. I watched homeless people transform the little they had into abundance.
There was always enough to share, even if that meant taking less for themselves. No one went without. Everyone had enough. No one ever went to bed hungry or cold. Those who had little to give, gave so much. And, that’s not surprising.
What Defines the Real Parasite?
Paul Piff, a psychology researcher at U.C. Berkeley, conducted a study that found the poor are more charitable than the rich. Piff “found that people who were actually ranking themselves as relatively high in their socio-economic status were less inclined to give … than were people who ranked themselves as relatively lower in social class.” Moreover, “…lower-class people, or the relatively lower-class individuals, were inclined to give away 44 percent more.”
When I consider homeless stereotypes, especially the word “parasite”, I wonder if we’ve got it all wrong. Based on this study, those with a lower socio-economic status demonstrate a lesser tendency to behave like a parasite.
Yet, society scorns poor and homeless people.
It’s disturbing to think our worth as human beings is attributed to how much money we have. To think our worth is influenced not by what we give, but how much we keep for ourselves is even more disturbing. In a world ridden with poverty, it is immoral to take more than we need, and not share our excess. This is especially true considering the amount of poverty that exists in our world.
So the question is: Are poor people and homeless people really taking too much? I’d argue the parasites are people who are hoarding in abundance.