In his introductory remarks for the October 4 Stanislaus Alliance Homeless Workshop at the Salida Public Library, Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes lamented that we live in a time when people can see a body lying in the street and pass by without even considering helping out.
Like Hayes, many people today wonder how society has become crueler, cruder, and less caring for others, especially with regard to homeless people in dire need. While there are multiple reasons, some are easier to identify than others.
Fear and Loathing
The spectacle of a body lying on a public sidewalk elicits different reactions from different people, especially if the body is easily identified as a homeless person. Well-dressed people are far more likely to receive immediate help than people in shabby or dirty clothing. Homeless people prompt conflicting reactions ranging from compassion to revulsion.
For many, homeless people are disgusting because they’re dirty, malodorous, and sometimes on drugs. It’s easy to associate homeless people with needles, crime and violence, all of which stimulate fear and loathing.
Research into brain functions has shown that we often experience conflicting emotions about people in need, ranging from empathy to disgust. Add the fear factor, and it’s not hard to understand why the same people who would help a well-dressed business person might also avoid a homeless person in the same dire straits.
Even upper middle class people today find themselves hard-pressed to keep up with the demands of work and family, let alone membership in church and charitable organizations. People who might otherwise stop and help a person in distress are often too busy.
It’s widely believed that homeless people deserve their fate, either because they’ve made bad decisions, engaged in immoral behavior, or committed crimes. Even disabled people in wheelchairs are often scorned and ignored as unworthy of sympathy or help.
Alan Davis, an amputee who sat in a wheelchair in the same soiled clothing for over a year near downtown Modesto, often received small change and food from passersby, but never got true assistance until homeless coordinator Frank Ploof arranged to have him admitted to Modesto’s Outdoor Emergency Shelter (MOES).
Davis’s case is not unusual. Kenneth “Pops” Yarber, also wheelchair-bound, spent almost twenty years on the streets of Modesto, mostly around 7th and I Streets. He finally got into MOES after Modesto Police Sargent Mike Hammond found a place for him and ordered him off the streets. Both Davis and Yarber were likely judged as unworthy of help.
Loss of Community
In a nation featuring bitter political divisions, it’s not surprising that many communities have become divided and dysfunctional. Wealth inequality is an especially divisive factor.
Robert Sapolsky, winner of a MacArthur “genius” award and a specialist in the biology and neurology of the brain, has argued persuasively that wealth inequality makes people “less kind.” As people separate into isolated social and economic enclaves, it becomes harder and harder to share experiences and points of view. The result is that on issues like homelessness and poverty, it’s much easier to assign blame than it is to think rationally about how to solve the problems.
Julia Orlando, the featured speaker at the Homeless Workshop, emphasized repeatedly how difficult it is to end homelessness. She also stressed that ending homelessness is a matter of “political will.”
Ultimately, despite recent illusions that political will is a top down dynamic, political will must be generated from the people—one more reason to come together and find the common ground that provides the foundation for communities and the greater good.
Rhonda Allen says
Great article, Eric.
I do believe when people have too much stress inn their own lives, they find it difficult to concern themselves with others’ problems. Our world has become a stressful place. Maybe if we could detach for awhile and focus on what really matters, we could find the energy to help others.
Jessica K says
Agreed. I found this blog because I feel guilty about passing a homeless mother and child today in front of Walgreen. I was so stressed from a 10-hour trip, in pain, and hungry I felt like I didn’t have time to help. I was so miserable. I now feel terrible because I’m sure their situation was worse than mine. I plan on driving around tomorrow to see if I can find in the same area to help.
Jane Whisler says
Good for you!
Joshua Head says
If you put 100 red ants and 100 black ants in a jar, they will live peacefully. If you shake the jar, however, they will start killing each other. Its time to start thinking about who shook the jar in our society.
Jane Whisler says
This is so old, I can’t find a place to post, so will piggy back on your comment, sorry. I just am still upset from an event two days ago,I must write. At that time, I’d gone with a friend to our local Trader Joe’s, she drive, I don’t have a car,she’s had a pretty luxurious life and inherited a multi million dollar property, the houses shed grown up in,and only left to go to college. While going ink, she fell back, and I saw her giving a Real Change vendor a dollar for the 2 dollar newspaper, I’d never seen her give a fig about homelessness. I went back and he luckily took my 5er, so he didn’t have to make up the difference, himself.
Then afterwards, just pulling out, an elderly homeless woman with a sign stood in the street, and having another dollar, I started to get out to give her the paltry sum. My friend nearly jumped out of her seat, “OH, NO! Don’t give HER anything, no, no! I was doing it and finished giving her the buck, she was very gracious and wished me a sweet happy new year. When I jumped back in, I asked said pal, “why? Do you know her, and she did something, or is she always around, and she’s bugging or harassing you?”
“No,” from her, and the worst I realized would be coming.. “she just looks out of it, and I can’t be sure what she’d do with the money”. My body suddenly got hot with anger and shock. “ Wow, really”? She replied “ end of discussion,we won’t talk about it”.
She’d pulled that before, but NO, not over this! I told her that :no, we’re going to talk about it”, not in anger as much as wanting to educate her. ‘Finally, she deigned to concede that “everybody has a story”. But now even that bugs me! Right, and not everyone inherits their huge family home ,free and clear, for life. But see, there? Not that Seattle’s housing crisis is off the map, not that medical bills are ruining in this country, “her STORY”. Huh. Grrrr. It’s NONE of her BUSINESS what “her story”is, or if she needed to get well by needing a fix, because there are no beds to detox in, and treatment is expensive, HAD, on the off chance she chose to spend her money that way, even if it was, which I doubt, how would that affect my judgmental, cushy life “friend”? It’s happened several times before, “we needed to sweep that camp, obviously, because it’s near a school, for the KIDS, of course”. So, even in supposedly progressive ( or maybe because) town of Seattle, classist castes and untouchables are the going way for many. And this friend calls herself” a Christian”, hardly surprised. Thanks for letting me vent, I have to find a way to teach her something about reality, but doubt she cares!
Jane Whisler says
Oops, wish I could edit that post now, so many misspelled and typos , hope you can figure something out of it!
Damon Woods says
In Oakdale , as in Modesto, there are food pantries and shelter options, but it does require the homeless to seek help. In Oakdale, for example, the rescue mission purchased a house (from donations from the community) to allow the homeless a place to take a shower and even store their possessions and seek help. One small requirement- they have to do some chores. The purpose of that, is to teach them to work for what they receive……there are options for the homeless, but they have to want to ask and be willing to walk a few blocks too. Self service, delivery of services to your corner of the world is not yet available.
We project onto the homeless what we would do if we were homeless. We would seek out help and be willing to do chores and/ or follow rules in exchange for working our way out. I believe many in the homeless community would follow this route. But there are many that are too mentally ill to comprehend this. They are in a world and mindset that we can’t possibly imagine. I would be in favor of doing street outreach to these people. The downside to this is trying to get them into facilities for treatment and we don’t have many of those in this country.
Kallie Jackson says
YES THANK YOU GOD YES
Judy McClellan says
Those people that have never been homeless and are newly homeless are lumped together with the people that are mentally challenged and drug addicts. We must have help for all depending on their situation.
For the mentally ill people and drug addicted people, we need to have mental health facilities for these people so they can get help but because they are suffering from addiction or mental illness they do not realize that they even need help, but if help is easily available which it is not, the ones that need it and want it should be able to get it. The percentage of the people that do not fit in this category that are willing to work for housing are also refused affordable housing because there simply is no affordable housing to cover hardly anyone but there should be and once they are homeless for the first time because the cost of living far and above exceeds wages paid, they are treated the same as the drug addicts and the mentally challenged. There needs to be housing and decent food for all of these homeless people. We have plenty of land that should be available to build simple units for these people. I am sure that people that are not sick and able to contribute would be more than happy as long as they can earn enough at least for decent shelter and food. They should not have to depend on situations where they can only get shelter from a church where only a few can get in. We need to house them and help them with food and help them get jobs. We need a reliable and compassionate advocate to go to bat for the homeless. We should not lock people up in jails because they are mentally ill or have a drug addiction. We need to have resources to help them and that should include facilities where they can be treated.
In Turlock, ca. it is outrageous the way the homeless are treated. These are human beings and everyone deserves a roof over their heads and healthy food to eat and resources to help them get employment. I know it is complicated but the city should be able to obtain a plot of land and build houses for all the homeless to cover basic needs, such as showers, kitchen, bathroom and a decent number of bedrooms to house them simply but comfortably. There should be someone to advocate for the homeless and organize them so that those that are able can work and take care of their family and pay a rent that is fair so that they can have money left for food and the basics after rent is paid. The rents are out of control.. and much too high and that is why so many people are living on the streets. What has happened to common decency and compassion???? I see so many people on the streets that are mentally challenged and it is heart breaking. I see so many people that have family’s and trying to do their best. They need help as well. We do need a outreach to help these people. Mental illness is as serious as any sickness and people need to stop pretending that it is not. This is a rich country and no one should be on the street, homeless and asking for food. I honestly do not understand why people think this is ok.
Gina Brown says
100% true. Many responses are based on what WE THINK we would do. Most cannot step outside of their situations to understand someone elses. I do not believe people purposely choose til live disheveled & unclean. I believe the longer we ignore people, THATS what happens. Most believe it can’t happen to them. All we need to change that belief is a natural disaster or terror incident. The immediate loss of lives & services may show a different side of who we thought we were.
Have you been in a homeless shelter. It don’t have nothing to do about cleaning up behind yourself. Homeless shelter place is a nasty the people that work there are nasty they don’t really help you. When the people donate to the homeless shelter the people that work there steal the money. Before you express your opinion no the facts.
This is an oversimplified approach to the “help” available to homeless individuals. It is never as simple as just “seeking out help” or “working for what they receive.” Your statement that these people just have to “be willing to walk a few blocks and ask for help” is out-of-touch and unempathetic. We often don’t realize how many homeless people are disabled (visibly or invisibly), how many struggle with addictions (again, not as simple as “don’t do drugs”), and how many have been so scorned by society that they no longer feel true help will ever come. We’re also not acknowledging that shelters or group homes are not always helpful – many homeless people won’t sleep in a group home out of the (very valid) fear that what few belongings they have will be stolen while they sleep in “safety.”
Homeless people deserve dignity and respect in the same way all humans do. This is a systemic issue and placing the weight of it on the disadvantaged person, blaming them for not seeking out help, benefits no one and harms many. True compassion doesn’t require people to “earn” basic human needs.
Eric Caine says
Chyril Turner says
Thanks. Eric, for further educating us about our need to MAKE time in our lives to help people without shelter. Informing ourselves by reading this brief article is a good way to improve the chances that we will take positive action when we see someone in need. We can also commit to helping the organizations that serve them.
Bruce Frohman says
Many people think that the “social safety net”, the government system of programs designed to mitigate hardship, has no holes. The thinking is that anyone who seeks aid will receive it. Add to the government programs all of the non-profits like the Salvation Army and Rescue Mission, and the perception is that plenty of assistance is available. After the average citizen pays his taxes and makes his donations to his favorite charities, his conscience is clear. He often feels no further obligation to help.
Mental Health issues seem to be the greatest barrier to providing assistance. Unless one is a professional in assisting homeless individuals, personal safety is the number one consideration in trying to decide whether to help someone lying on a sidewalk. Not knowing the mental state of someone is a big deterrent to providing direct assistance. Calling the police to do a welfare check is a more likely outcome.
Ken Hansen says
Many of the homeless are obviously insane as they yell at demons only they can see. No doubt they are possessed by schizophrenia and are a danger to society. In the past, we confined them at Modesto State Hospital for their own good, and the publics. The majority of the homeless do not need homes per se, they need to be institutionalized either for drug addiction or insanity.
Kallie Jackson says
No offense but if they have demons don’t you think this is a job for…JESUS!GOD!HOLY SPIRIT POWER AND DELIVERANCE….:) SHOW LOVE AND PEOPLE WILLLLLL HEAL!THEY DON’T NEED TO BE LOCKED UP!THEY NEED LOTS AND LOTS OF LOOOOOVVVEEE.to help with that pain that makes them insaaaaannnneee.Being out here could just about make anyone go crazier than they were…
Terri L Moody says
Amen! Thank you and God bless.
That just goes to show that you don’t have a clue and probably a little brain too.
You may not have noticed, but you are clearly a bad man.
You have justified the act of abandoning them by marking them as bad people.
I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.
We ought not to judge,
lest we be judged.
one: they are not all metally instable, they often resort to drugs to help them cope with the stress they face.
two: the fact that you have “all” the answers for what “seems” to be done is incorrect and downright prejudice.
David C says
Ive once had it all, lost it all, i never undetstood the good times untill i went through the bad times, im living in my car, finally got one it took me about 2 years of recyling cans and plastic bottles to purchase. When i get my life back on solid ground ima focus on helping other homeless people, they need help, love and compassion too. And money dont mean sh%÷, when we die gods judges us from our character as a human not our bank account!!!
James Rendek says
Thank you. It doesn’t justify it but it does explain it. I don’t understand how anyone can think homelessness was a conscious desirable choice for these people. Even if they are mentally ill it’s all the more reason to help. A much better use of tax dollars would be to help Americans. The military does not need trillions of dollars to bully the world into agreeing with the U. S. ‘s poor decisions.
It is not easy to be homeless; there is a lot of continuous judgment and shame involved. People in general assume and look the other way. There are different levels of homelessness. if you do not have a working space, and a home base to build your life up as well as to protect yourself – that is all you are doing every day is protecting yourself, dealing with the weather, and trying to survive. Good luck with trying to build your life up additionally. Then, eating healthy food and having a fulfilling and empowering routine and way of utilizing your gifts and/or skill-sets to advance your career or steps toward a career are extremely challenging.
I have been both not homeless, and homeless. In general without family helping you – you are on your own. Thankfully, God does care about the homeless – and His Scriptures will reign for the homeless in the end when He comes back to judge the living and the dead. The homeless tears will be wiped away and He will hold them in deep love for those homeless. (edited)
Lillian T Pictor says
I do help when I can but my family lives below poverty level though we own our home and have no car anymore. We are retired and my husband is chronically ill. The best I can do is hand them some cash, if I have it, and direct them to assistance and services if they are not already aware. There are, I think, As many types of homeless people as there are people in general. Some want to work, some are lazy, some are mentally ill, some are scam artists, some have just lost their jobs due to lay-offs. Some are the salt of the earth. Some are old or disabled. Some are criminals. I feel for even the scammers. We need to consider how they became that way. Yes, some homeless made bad decisions. Don’t we all? We are just luckier.
Maybe we need to feel bad for the criminals and consider how they may have gotten that way. I don’t say let them hurt others but I say Let’s have some compassion. I am cautious, I admitt. Some homeless will take advantage if you show them kindness. Some are ungrateful. After all I am handing them a buck or two on my way to buy a cart of groceries. But we have to eat and live and I am sometimes scraping to get the groceries myself. Yes, I am cautious. But I listen to their problems many times. We need more money, education, housing, jobs that are suited to a person’s interests and talents. Any work can be noble but most people donot want to work serving burgers all their lives. Homelessness is a huge issue and very much misunderstood by the self-righteous who say ” Just go get a job” or proudly tell you all the troubles they have overcome. Not everyone is strong, reslient or just plain lucky.
People are selfish and only care about things that affect them personally
Yomomma's stepbro says
Aye man Ken ur sus asf and totally an idiot,
I don’t get it though. The Government has so much money, why cant some go to Homeless Shelters. There are a few comments on here saying ” The Homeless Shelters are Nasty, The People Running the homeless shelters ain’t even helping” well why can’t the money go towards that. It’s so important that homeless people get Professional support ASAP. Especially with covid 19. They are going to get forced against their own will into getting vaccinated. Even worse probably blackmailed. It’s like they’re being Alienated if they don’t get the vaccine, which homeless people could die from getting. Everywhere I go, To a shopping market, Grocery store, Practically everywhere. All I can see on every street is a homeless person with their cardboard signs up. Asking for the littlest amount of money or food, but again day after day, Night after night they get walked paced, Ignored. Looked at like there lower than everyone else because they’re in an unfortunate space at this point of their life. Some think that homeless people deserve their fate, but they really don’t. No one deserves to be out on the streets, no matter how many bad things they do. Everyone’s life is valuable. Rich, Average, Poor, Homeless. There’s really no difference. We could do so much to help but because I’m too young I can’t actually speak up and say what I really really want to say.
P Randall Bowers says
I found this blog because I googled what is it called when people walk by bodies in the street and pay no attention. Living in Hollywood I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t walk past someone laying in the street, but I think because many years ago I was an ICU nurse that I’m unconsciously scanning to see that they’re still breathing, a few days ago as I walked up Franklin avenue between cahuenga and Vine I saw one of those bodies lying on the sidewalk but this time it was different he wasn’t moving, I put my hand on his shoulder and shook him and said are you okay sir there was no response so I got down on one knee and I put both hands on him and shook vigorously and very loudly asked sir are you okay still no response but I noticed food particles in his nostrils and I leaned over to see the street side of his face and saw vomit I then took my fingers and cleared out his mouth after turning his head to the side and I then started CPR to make a long story short my efforts were unsuccessful. When police and fire arrived they simply checked him out and put a sheet over him. At one point during my attempt I did turn him on his side to clear out more vomit and I noticed the back of his neck and just below was dark red which could have been lividity, which takes place several hours after someone passes. But I can’t be sure as I didn’t see it anywhere else. But if it was I wondered how many people had walked by this poor soul dying on the sidewalk without anyone taking the time to turn away from their phone and offer another human in distress some help or if nothing else make a simple phone call to 911. I can’t stop thinking about this poor young man did he have a family waiting for him to come home or was he an immigrant who came here with the hopes of a better life to only tragically die alone on a sidewalk on a hot afternoon in Los Angeles. I get it we’re all tired of the homeless situation here to the point where we’re ignoring it but for God’s sakes have some compassion.