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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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More Kindness for the Less Fortunate

Kaitlyn+Fleming
Abigail Cutlip
Kaitlyn Fleming

We are too quick to judge.

We have all witnessed or had an experience with the unsheltered community in some capacity throughout our lives.

It is a scenario we are all familiar with: a lone individual waiting patiently on the curb, weathered sign in hand, in hopes of spare change. Perhaps a man offering his labor in exchange for a warm meal.

“Roughly 653,100 people–or about 20 of every 10,000 people in the United States were experiencing homelessness,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a single night in 2023.

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As for Huntington, there are roughly 244 unsheltered individuals inhabiting the city, according to the Los Angeles Times.

We are familiar with the ubiquitous statements in response to the sight of these unsheltered individuals.

Some say, “If you’re homeless, then why don’t you walk to McDonald’s and get a job,” or “I am not giving them any money, they are just going to spend it on drugs.”

Consider this: The “lazy homeless man” you drove past on your way to work may once have been a devoted son or loving parent.

Consider this: The “drug-addicted woman” you witnessed on an evening out with your family may have once been a dedicated student or a hard-working employee.

These individuals are not lazy background characters to one’s everyday existence, they are people with aspirations, dreams and an innate sense of worth–just like you and me.

It is time for the narrative to change. Empathy and compassion can make a world of difference with unsheltered individuals.

I consistently volunteered throughout my high school years at a weekly event entitled Street Ministry, during which we served breakfast to Huntington’s unsheltered community at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Over the course of my time serving at Street Ministry, I learned a lot about myself and Huntington’s unsheltered individuals.

I learned what most unsheltered individuals crave is a listening ear. They want someone to sympathize with their troubles and provide feedback.

I learned that despite people’s preconceived notions, most unsheltered individuals possessed an intrinsic kindness and joy–despite their baggage or housing situation.

I developed a sense of compassion through the understanding that one’s struggles are never surface level. There is always a deep sense of trauma involved.

I developed an awareness of my own privilege, as well as being able to put my own problems into perspective.

Most importantly, I learned we, as individuals, are almost always too quick to judge.

Instead of instant judgment, one can offer support through any avenue, whether that be pocket change or a bottle of water.

Society deleteriously stereotypes unsheltered individuals without understanding the scope of the problem.

One does not decide to experience homelessness.

Factors such as economic hardship, lack of affordable housing, domestic violence, mental health and the disease of addiction can all lead to homelessness.

Of course, there needs to be systematic change.

Availability of affordable housing, affordable healthcare, support services for addicts and policy reform are changes that can be made across various sectors.

Oftentimes, it may feel like these big changes are out of your hands. You may ask yourself, “But what can I do? It is not like I can make a difference.”

Questioning your ability to aid in the homeless crisis is valid. Despite this questioning, it is important to realize even the smallest gestures have the ability to make a significant impact.

One of these small acts includes acknowledging the humanity of the unsheltered. Recognize those experiencing homelessness are not a stereotype or statistic, and they do not deserve one’s judgment.

Those experiencing homelessness laugh, cry, rejoice, feel pain and experience a width of human emotions.

Those experiencing homelessness may just want to be acknowledged for their existence as the human being they are.

Remember next time you go to glare or ignore the unsheltered individual roaming the street to consider a nod or warm smile instead.

Don’t be too quick to judge.

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