By editorial board • 

Insider’s take on homelessness reveals human need for kindness

Last week’s Viewpoints cover article, by a former Willamina man now living on the streets of McMinnville, garnered a strong reaction. The most important lessons, as many commenters noted, were that homelessness is not a preexisting condition, nor does it define a person.

The article, written by Jason, a 45-year-old man who didn’t want his last name published, didn’t arrive at the News-Register via e-mail. It was slipped under our front door.

Handwritten on seven pages of lined memo pad paper, it was just legible enough to read. It came in an envelope bearing the following: “Please read / Please excuse my writing its not my strong point / Hope you will read & understand are frustrations”

This brief snapshot of life on the streets from a man dying of presumably self-inflicted liver damage led, of course, to a chorus of comments to the effect, “Clean yourself up and get a job.” If only it were that easy.

But the article led others to engage in some soul searching. One city planning official admitted in a Facebook post: “I learned a valuable life lesson today. Sometimes ‘giving’ is not about the charity of giving money, food or shelter. It is about always treating people with dignity. ... Everyone deserves to be acknowledged. Moving forward, I am going to try and smile, say ‘Hi’ and nod my head in acknowledgment. I do it all the time to complete strangers on the sidewalk, but I do not do it all the time to complete strangers on the sidewalk who are homeless.”

Another comment was posted by a young woman who said Jason was her dad, and there was far more to his story that we printed.

We’ve received similar comments from family members before. We understand a person publicly reflecting on his or her own situation won’t detail all the harm done to others by past behavior. We realize that can be maddening for those personally involved.

But if the final goal is to bridge the gap between the homed and the homeless, we can give it a pass. 

Some people are good and kindhearted, others not. Some people are menaces to society, and some are upstanding citizens. And that goes just as well for people sleeping on the streets as for those sleeping in comfortable beds.

We won’t give a pass to those to use our public spaces as their own toilets. But we also can’t judge each person on the street as part of that problem.

Being homeless shouldn’t make someone scary to approach. It shouldn’t come with predisposed judgment.

And that should work both ways. Respect deserves being returned.

Maybe you’re not ready to engage in a conversation with a homeless person. Try a nod and smile first.

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