I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people. But I’ll try.
It’s one thing to deny people their basic human rights with polished talking points and picket signs in town hall meetings across the country. It’s a whole new level of low to shame homeless people just for existing and plaster their picture on your Twitter feed.
Not only does this kind of behavior contribute to the harmful stereotypes about homeless people, encourage useless criminalization laws, and incite violence against vulnerable populations, it also makes you look really bad.
You may get a few retweets or approving comments from dumbass friends, but the rest of us are just faced with a glaring reminder that you’re a dick.
If you’re feeling defensive or still aren’t sure what’s wrong with tweeting out a candid pic of a person you saw on the street along with some “incisive commentary,” let’s go over a few key points:
People without Homes Are Still Entitled to Basic Human Dignity
This bit of etiquette is being stretched to its breaking point in the age of the smartphone. But Miss Manners would remind us that it’s rude to take a picture of someone without their knowledge or permission. It’s even ruder still to post that photo online.
It may seem funny to you at the time to post a photo of a person sleeping on the street based on their appearance, position, or whatever it is that gives you a giggle. But it’s not only distasteful to treat another human being as an endless well of schadenfreude – it could also be dangerous.
Many homeless people ended up sleeping on the streets after escaping a violent home. They may still be on the run or in hiding from the person who hurt them. Posting their picture, often along with their exact location, could lead to them being found by their abuser.
People who are homeless are already at a much higher risk of being the victims of violence without your tweets working against them, too.
In A Crisis, You Should Be Dialling 911, Not Taking Photos
Some pictures and videos that show up on Twitter to shame homeless people seem to depict apparent health crises. The subject reels, convulses, or shouts while the bystander films, laughing.
I hope I don’t need to explain why you should call 911 if you encounter a person – housed or unhoused – who appears to be in crisis rather than filming their suffering to cash in on imaginary internet points later.
Homelessness is a Public Safety Issue, Homeless People Are Not
Tweets that aren’t shaming people on the street for being asleep, bedraggled, or in the midst of an apparent health crisis often share a common thread: the “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” trope.
In a nutshell, this tweet posts a picture of a homeless person existing within the potential eyeline of children and asks, “Isn’t this horrible? What will the children think?”
Well, they’ll probably be horrified that people are allowed to remain unhoused without anyone stepping in. That’s a horror we likely all felt the first time we learned about homelessness, though some people lose it along the way.
They don’t see homeless people as tragic victims of a malfunctioning system. Instead, they see immoral gremlins waiting to kidnap and consume any children they see. At least that’s what they seem to think from the reactions they post on Twitter.
Even for adults, a common reaction to seeing a person who “looks homeless” is fear. That reaction makes no sense when you consider that a person who is homeless is much more likely to be the victim of a crime than to be the perpetrator.
The Beginner’s Guide to Empathy and Compassion
Empathy and compassion are not qualities that we as humans are born with. Granted, most of us have a good handle on them by the age of 2. But for those who could use a remedial lesson, I’ll give it a shot.
It’s good to care about other people. Even if they are not you, your family member, your friend, or someone who can offer you any benefit whatsoever. You should care about them just because they exist, with the same wants and needs as you have.
Make no mistake, homeless people are people. They’re not somehow downgraded to something less than fully human the moment their keyring gets a little bit lighter.
Your housing status does not determine your worth as a person, nor your humanity. How you treat others, however, may have an effect.
We all want to be happy, healthy, safe and nourished. We all suffer when we have to go without these things. It’s a fundamental experience we all share. So, it’s fairly easy for us to imagine what someone else is going through when it happens to them.
This type of caring is what makes society go ‘round. It’s the reason we can all live together in relative harmony as social creatures. It is essential to our continued survival on this planet. True caring, compassion and empathy will win you a lot more friends than shaming homeless people on Twitter ever could.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash