When my friends and I crossed Broad Street to go to Temple Star Chinese restaurant, we were all eager to have some fried chicken with a $1 iced tea. As we entered the restaurant, so did Bill – Broad Street Bill to be exact.
None of us had met Broad Street Bill, but he made sure to acquaint us with his story. He was a homeless man living by Temple Star, and apparently his wife had sent him out to beg for money.
At first, we were engaged by this unfortunate, yet friendly man. But soon, his relentless requests for “anything man, anything will help,” left us wondering whether to be dismissive and mean or understanding and compassionate Showing sympathy to people like “Bill” stem from the inherent human sense of moral obligation. The fact that homeless people are human beings like us, except that they have nowhere to call home, compels most people to give them something.
Since society has essentially abandoned these people, many of us tend to share a feeling of responsibility for the homeless. It’s virtually impossible to ignore them in a country where, according to the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development, 650,000 people are homeless on any given night.
Many people also help the homeless because it is a tradeoff, one for which most people would not mind paying a dollar. People give a small amount of money to a homeless man or woman, and in turn, they receive the feeling that they have done their good deed for the day – that they are good people.
Yet there are those who view the misfortune of the homeless in a far more cynical, pessimistic, and to some, even realistic light. These people would opt for apathy and dismissal.
The first argument is that the homeless tend to be criminals. For starters, an estimated 38 percent of homeless people have a substance abuse problem. Along with this, there is the notion that the homeless are con artists.
According to Temple sociology professor Dr. Kyriakos Kontopoulos, homeless people usually stake out spots they view as most likely to have the biggest payoff, such as a university full of young Americans, many of whom are willing to give a helping hand.
They find people who seem to give them money more often than others and they essentially latch onto them. All this can be seen as a result of the psychology the homeless must conserve in order to live on the streets. The apathetic say that the homeless are catering to the principles of pity. With this in mind, there’s no use in giving them any money.
People who don’t donate money say chronic homelessness is the result of vagrancy. Some homeless people stay homeless their whole lives, never making an attempt to pick themselves up and get on the right track. Others have been thrown out on the streets, because of one crisis or another, whether it’s eviction, bankruptcy or countless others.
Temple’s homeless seem to be of the chronic persuasion. Therefore, they “don’t deserve” aid.
Emotions always follow encounters with homeless people on the streets. Choosing apathy or sympathy lies in one’s reasoning and how an individual views this unfortunate person.
We may view them as criminals who will waste our money on drugs, or we might view them as human beings who need a helping hand because they have been cast aside by the world. These are all questions we all need to dwell on the next time we see a homeless person as we walk along Broad Street.
Rodrigo Torrejon can be reached at