Almost two weeks ago, I attended an event at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore that was held to raise awareness of homelessness. The event was originally brought to my attention by my philosophy professor who is a strong advocate for the homeless, especially in areas of healthcare availability for those who are less fortunate. Although the events purpose was for everyone to sleep out at the Inner Harbor, I was unable to do so because of prior engagements planned for the next day. I was, however, able to hear people talk and share their experiences of homelessness in the city.
There were plenty of people in attendance. Most brought sleeping bags and some snacks. People presented their lives and talked about their experiences with homelessness. The way in which these people spoke made you realize the hardship and challenges that these people encounter. Most people assume that homeless people are homeless for a reason such as addiction or bad life choices. But this is not always the case. Sometimes people are homeless just due to plain bad luck and misfortune. I was able to talk to one gentleman who talked of how he lived on the streets in the city for almost a year. He was working a low paying job before, and when the economy hit, he was laid off and could no longer afford his small bedroom in a rented house. He had to turn to living on the streets. He was not able to get a job, because he had no means of contact or stability in his life at that point. Many months later, he was able to find someone who gave him a new low paying job which enabled him to go live in a different small bedroom where he still today lives in poverty.
I have never had a thorough understanding of what it really means to be homeless and the challenges these people face. I’ve encountered homeless people around the city, usually begging for money. To be honest, homeless people have never scared me, but they have always given me a sense of uneasiness. I’m guessing that the sense of uneasiness has come from being approached and asked for money by a complete stranger.
Listening to people who have been in this situation has brought me to a new understanding of the challenges that homeless people face. Hearing of how these people did not know where they would sleep at night, what would happen to them while they were sleeping, where they would get their next meal, and if their life would improve made me realize how fortunate I really am to be born into the life I was. Another huge issue is the healthcare, or lack thereof, that homeless people receive. Most are underserved by our current healthcare system.
I am fortunate enough to work at a hospital downtown that provides a great deal of charity care for those who cannot afford it. The Shock Trauma Center receives the most seriously injured and critically ill patients in Maryland. As part of that, we provide a great deal of care that goes uncompensated—as trauma happens to everyone. I recently helped take care of a homeless gentleman who was stabbed in the abdomen. As part of his care he received emergent surgery, a week long hospital stay, hot meals, baths, and upon discharge he received a great deal of bus passes so that he could return to the clinic and get where he needed/wanted to go. All for free. It made me feel great to know what I was helping someone who had not had those amenities in a very long time, and was so grateful for the care he was receiving.
As a central theme of the class, we are asking what it means to be human and lead a good life. From this perspective, leading a good life simply means taking care of others. Whether it is advocating those who need advocating for, or providing care, or simply being kind, what matters is helping and taking care of others. This event has made me think about homelessness in new ways. It has erased some of my preconceived notions about the homeless and how they got to where they are. This experience would have been much better if I was able to spend the night and take in the full meaning of the night.
The most surprising thing that I have learned in this course is that literature can be approached from so many different angles. As we have read poems and short stories, we have critically analyzed the text and sometimes arrived at different conclusions as to the meanings. Both conclusions could have been fully supported by textual evidence, however they could have been complete opposites. It always interested me that people can take such different stances on what literature means and what the author is trying to say. Although, what surprised me even more was that the conclusions were reached usually because of past experiences. Whenever I have analyzed literature before, I always went directly from what the book or poem had said. Never before have I brought in personal experiences to analyze the literature against to arrive at a meaning. This has proved very effective during in-class discussion and blog postings.