The Tuesday article “Homeless Near Campus Share Their Stories” by Angela Gray contains a narrow-minded and insulting portrayal of what homelessness means and reinforces negative stereotypes that cause people to feel a lack of compassion for the homeless community who need and deserve better treatment and assistance.
The wrongdoing begins with the photo on the front page. Of course, I know it is funny, and that draws in more readers; but, it reinforces negative stereotypes of homelessness. The “average homeless person” did not just “fall onto the street near University Avenue Southeast.” The photo equivalent of the “average University” student would be a college freshman passed out drunk in the gutter on a Friday night.
This negative image would stigmatize all University students without explaining that more than likely, this college freshman was coaxed into binge drinking by his peers, or that this was the first and last time the student would drink to such excess. Likewise, every homeless person is not falling down in to the street every time you see them. In fact, most homeless people do not appear to be homeless.
Gray’s article is very entertaining, much like the photos that accompany it, but it does not include any input from an individual who could be considered an accurate representation of what homelessness is like.
Gray closes with “homelessness could happen to anyone” without any explanation or support of this argument. This argument has been proved accurate by universities, social scientists, governmental and non-governmental agencies; but the article leaves the audience with nothing to corroborate the theory.
Gray could have included the history of the individuals interviewed. The article lacks an explanation of how Diane Thompson, Angelee Smith, Edgar, Herman W. Rusch or Lee Westmoreland came to be homeless. I assume the article was intended to give the reader a better understanding of what life is like being homeless, but all it contains is highlights like “one day I made $180 in 25 minutes,” instead of “I was a student at the University back in the 1980s or 1990s and then … .” I know the latter story exists, because I’ve heard it before. The latter story would be a more accurate portrayal of the homeless community and would resonate deeper with the audience.
A more accurate representation of homelessness would have been a photo of a middle-aged single mother at one of her one to three jobs, or a photo of her at the bus stop with her child looking like everybody else.
If Gray would have included an explanation of how she was “normal” until systemic and institutional forces caused her to become homeless; and now she is struggling with family and friends to get herself back on her feet, while possibly caring for children. The article could include the difficulty one goes through when trying to get a job without an address to put on the application or a home to shower and dress for the interview.
It could include the difficulty of waking at 5 or 6 every morning in order to catch a bus to work, or the struggle of caring for children without a home to raise them in safely while simultaneously trying to gather enough money to acquire a home. It could have included the difficulties of applying for space at a homeless shelter. It could have included the hours spent waiting in line at government offices in search of assistance that government agencies often promise (usually one of these visits consumes the morning and afternoon in entirety).
It could have included the detriment that this situation, coupled with the negativity and neglect the dominant society shows the homeless, an individual’s physical and mental health, as well as his or her self-esteem and ability to reinject himself or herself back into society.
There is a larger percentage of homeless people who work 50 hours a week than there is standing on the corner with a sign pleading for money. The majority of the city’s, the state’s and the nation’s homeless people are children. There are homeless college students. There are homeless parents. There are homeless families. There are homeless University employees. There are homeless members of the University community who could be attending classes or working all morning and afternoon as a janitor in Coffman Union or a dishwasher for University Dining Services.
These stories are not hard to find. There are many resources and offices in the Twin Cities and at the University where people would be happy to give the Daily and its readers a more accurate portrayal of what homelessness means, like the College of Liberal Arts Career and Community Learning Center, University YMCA and Simpson Housing Services, among many others.
The Daily should do something to correct this false representation of the homeless community. If not in the next installment of the “series on homelessness at the University,” then as a separate article or editorial. This insensitivity in journalism is exactly why the Daily has such harsh critics.
Eddie Glenn is a University alumnus. Please send comments to [email protected]