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A view on the homeless

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Published: Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Updated: Saturday, October 10, 2009 11:10

Picture your daily routine for just a moment, getting out of class on a cold November day and maybe walking the few bone-chilling blocks to the subway station where you get on the often crowded but warm train. On the walk to the station, it’s possible that you could encounter two people asking for money. “Do you have some change you could spare?” are words that we all hear on a regular basis as students of Georgia State University.

Homelessness is something that I have never had to deal with in my life. When confronted with someone who is clearly destitute, my first instinct is pity and then my second instinct is mostly likely self-preservation. Personally, it makes me feel fragile in a way, to think that I could ever be in that position someday.

That familiar phrase of “only being a paycheck away” from being homeless comes to mind. When I first started at Georgia State I was struck by the everyday contrast that I encountered on my daily route to class. As a student, I am going to college to get an education, get a degree and get a job to support myself. Yet, I see strong examples of poverty everyday on my way to what society might deem to be success. This is a baffling contrast that often bothers me.

In March of this year, a homeless woman named Nanette Massey wrote an account of her experience about being homeless in Atlanta for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Last month, she updated the public about her situation and reported that she had now found a new job and a place to live.

Massey also talked about the outpouring of help that she had received along the way. She mentioned a local librarian who allowed her to make some local calls and employees at a salon that styled her hair at no cost when she told them she was homeless and had a job interview. It would be wonderful to hear thousands of stories like this about people that who were able to get out of the poverty of homelessness.

When asked, some students commented on the fact that many of the people who pan-handle are most likely not homeless at all. Perhaps that is why accurate statistics on the homeless population are so sketchy.

However, I found more than 40 listings for homeless shelters with an Atlanta address. So why are their so many homeless people in a city that has so many shelters and resources to help them? Well the answer is never a simple one.

One website created at the University of Georgia listed some staggering statistics on homelessness, which stated that the Atlanta area offers 2,600 beds to a homeless population of between 11,000 and 20,000. It is virtually impossible to estimate the accuracy of these numbers. There are obvious things that we can do to help those less fortunate than ourselves, such as volunteering our time or simply giving to charitable organizations.

However, it’s hard not to become cynical about those regular pan-handlers that you encounter on a daily basis. I find it difficult to feel much pity for the guy on the train who asked me for fifty cents and then proceeded to ask me if I pay rent. I was somewhat taken aback by this question, but responded and told him that I did pay rent.

“I just wonder why someone who pays rent only has 50 cents,” he said. What can a person really say to that? My first instinct was to be angry especially since the person did not particularly look needy. When another passenger on the train started to quarrel with the man and ask him why he didn’t have a job, the pan-handler responded by listing various biblical figures who had worked and committed various wrongs, and then also stated that Hitler had a job.

These are the random experiences you can have on your daily tip on MARTA. I know there are some people out there that choose not to work. Still there are even thousands more that have found themselves in a destitute situation that they can’t get out of, people that want to do more for themselves but are trapped at the bottom of that sometimes insurmountable hill of life. For those people, I will gladly give my money, my time and my prayers.

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