Not everyone gets to walk the red carpet of homelessness. It helps if you know people
There’s been a list circulated online for years of famous people who have been homeless. The list contains names, pictures and brief descriptions of how these various famous people became homeless. It includes people such as Jesus, William Shatner, Ben Franklin, Joan Rivers and yours truly. When I first saw the list years ago I was stunned, and everyone I know was stunned, to find me on it. How did I get famous?
Oh, yeah, I remember, for writing about being homeless—how recursive of me.
I wrote about the list here way back in 2002, when I complained that everyone says “Jesus was homeless, too” but nobody ever says, “Hitler was homeless, too.” (Hitler isn’t on the list, but he was famous and was homeless for a while.) That annoys me because it makes homelessness out to be some kind of honor people should aspire to, instead of just something really bad, a stupid thing that can happen to anyone, something that doesn’t say anything about the kind of person you are.
For the record, if you find the list, Drew Carey didn’t just turn 44. That tells you how long its been since this list has been updated. The Internet needs expiration dates. Right after seeing that list again, I saw the news about the former governor of New Jersey, Richard Codey, pretending to be a mentally ill homeless man and spending a night in a shelter in Newark.
It made me think we need more lists. For instance, every other week I read about people pretending to be homeless and either camping out for a couple of nights or staying in a shelter. Most of them are high school or college kids. But this has been going on for a while; some of them must be famous by now. How about a list of “famous people who have ever pretended to be homeless to learn what it’s like?”
But then I thought, “Hey, why is this always going one way?” You’ve got people who aren’t homeless passing themselves off as homeless people all the time, for the sake of learning to be compassionate about their fellow humans. But you never see news stories about homeless people passing themselves off as housed in order to learn how to feel empathy for the non-homeless. It’s not right! Homeless people want to have empathy, too!
Richard Codey got the benefit of a makeup artist who spent time making him look unrecognizable and unkempt so he could pass for a mentally ill homeless guy. We need the same thing for homeless people. Of course to really get the full sense and feel of being non-homeless, it won’t be enough for the homeless people to just pass for housed during the day. They’ll need to experience the dehumanizing effects of sleeping in a proper bed in a house or an apartment, in order to fully appreciate what housed people go through.
When homeless people can experience directly the struggles of being housed, they can take the insights they gain back to the homeless community. Homeless people can increase understanding of the housed and perhaps see them more as fellow human beings and not look away from them when they pass them on the streets.
As they become more understanding, homeless people will be motivated to work for political changes that will improve the lives of housed people. Perhaps they might organize consciousness-raising seminars among fellow homeless people, and invite representative housed persons, or formerly housed persons, to come share their stories with them and tell about how they became housed and how they were able to deal with it.
Or they might organize campaigns to lobby for legislation to benefit the housed. At the very least, providing for homeless people to experience being housed for a day or two should reduce the stigma of housedness.
Perhaps, some day, not today, not tomorrow, but maybe within our lifetimes, some housed person will finally be proud enough to say, without being put up to it, “You know, Jesus Christ was housed, too, once.”
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.