Homelessness and Compassion

For some, those two words don’t always go together.

But, I think everyone, at some point, forgets to stop and be thankful. Not everyone has a roof over their head or food on the table.

For me, regardless of the homeless individual’s situation, my heart always breaks for them. In fact, I recently had to write a piece of legislation to keep individuals from sleeping on the streets. Not only did I get to read all the heartbreaking statistics, but I also learned there are some serious constitutional issues with removing the homeless from the streets. Where are they to go? For example, The Eighth Amendment guarantees that “cruel and unusual punishments [will not be] inflicted.”  The basis of the Eight Amendment is that laws cannot punish mere status. Thus, a homeless individual cannot be punished merely for being “homeless;” there must be another wrongdoing or another basis to punish them on. Unfortunately, the lack of legal homeless shelters throughout the world has forced many to sleep and get kicked off the street with nowhere else to go. But, generally, homeless individuals do not win under the Eighth Amendment.

I have an unwavering feeling of compassion for these people. I have no idea what their situation is: whether they are homeless because of a drug addiction or whether they were born into homelessness. Speaking of such, on my way to work every morning there is young woman, she cannot be any older than 30, who is definitely at least 6-7 months pregnant, standing in the snow and rain begging for money. I can’t even imagine what she is going through or what the child will be born into if it survives. I’ve seen several people stop to talk to her, so I’m not sure if she has just refused help or if there isn’t much anyone can do aside from taking her in. On another occasion, I was taking the CTA to the airport and there was a young boy (probably about 17 or 18) with, what I believed to be his younger sister, begging for money and help. My heart sunk to my toes. I gave him $20  that day.

ImageThere’s also the other spectrum of homelessness views, the view that my husband takes. That view is that you really do have to completely give up on your life or spiral so far out of control to become homeless (aside from those who are born into homeless or cannot otherwise sustain a life outside of homelessness). During my research on this legislation proposal for class, I came across NUMEROUS homeless programs, volunteers dedicated to helping the homeless, and of course there are statutes (federal and state) in place to help these people. Whether all of them know that help is there is other story, but it made me feel a little better knowing there is help out there.

While I support legislation that bans aggressive panhandling; I’m more or less against legislation banning the homeless from sleeping in public areas overnight. Where else are they to go if there are not enough shelters in the town or city they live in? Then there are the people that complain that their tax dollars are being spent on these people. There are also people out there who flat out abuse governmental help like welfare, for example, and simply don’t need the help or are too lazy to find a job. There are so many variations of the arguments on both sides, and there is a also a very fine between them all. I clearly see both viewpoints, but in the end, I can’t deny that my heart breaks into tiny pieces when I see them on the streets. No one deserves to be homeless.

Homelessness is a big reason why I wanted to get into public interest law. I’ve volunteered at soup kitchens; I’ve volunteered at the courthouse helping pro se litigants (mostly very poor people) figure out how to file for a guardianship without a licensed attorney. The experiences are extremely fulfilling and rewarding to me. I love helping people, and I want to make sure that I find time to continue to volunteer my time every now and then.

Everyone falls down sometimes, and everyone needs help sometimes. Be compassionate.



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