It breaks my heart to watch the park police remove tents from McPherson Square and to see the hard work of homeless advocates go overlooked. They work quietly behind the scenes searching for housing for the homeless and helping people struggling with addiction, transitioning from prison, and other difficulties.
Sadly, very few people know about So Others Might Eat, Miriam’s Kitchen and Bread for the City. I, for one, don’t know where many homeless people would be today without Street Sense. There needs to be more media coverage of organizations that have a proven track record of helping people find houses, health care, and assistance to move off the streets.
However, even as many nonprofits do great work in this space, there are others who exploit homeless people. There is a homeless aristocracy comprised of people in powerful positions who ignore, alibi and protect bad actors among us. They don’t want to acknowledge that not all homeless people are victims. Some people are homeless for complex reasons this aristocracy doesn’t want to hear or address.
Sadly, many organizations seem less concerned about showing care for the homeless, and more interest in getting publicity for themselves. Too many homeless advocates want to be like Rihanna and be the center of attention, rather than be behind the scenes working to create a better image of homelessness.
I was so shocked and embarrassed to see people I knew and worked with doing interviews with Fox News and the New York Post. They didn’t understand that all publicity is not good publicity. Some media outlets want to put homeless people on TV simply to reinforce the stereotypes that homeless people are scary and need to be removed from society.
No one respects or takes the homeless voice seriously. The media focuses on too many people that babble incoherently and say outrageous things in order to depict homeless people as the problem in D.C.
If the government can find billions of dollars to send to Ukraine, why can’t we find housing for the thousands of homeless residents living in Washington, D.C.?
Homelessness is in a crisis because the media keeps the issue polarized. Furthermore, many homeless advocates don’t appear to be about solutions but instead about spreading their ideology and making everything political. We don’t need to be divided; both conservatives and liberals agree that there are homeless people who are mentally ill. But there is no reason for these disagreements
For those that want to help, I tell them to learn from churches. Most pastors have street smarts about the poor and homeless.
Some advocates think helping homeless people means connecting them to $15-an-hour jobs. But panhandlers are smart, and they understand that a $15-an-hour job isn’t a reasonable tradeoff when the average apartment in D.C. costs $2,400. So the panhandler refuses the job to continue panhandling.
This brings us to the root of addressing homelessness. The issue is the people that need homes but unfortunately, there are too many special interests more concerned about their status than the status of the homeless.
Jeffery McNeil is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media