31 October, 2016
Lifeamong the Homeless
In the past two decades, homelessness has become a major issue withinthe society. One of the primary causes for the phenomenon has beenthe increase in house prices. In many instances,single-room-occupancy hotels have been converted into luxuryapartments for the wealthy. Homelessness has also intensified due tomental illness and unemployment. In “On Compassion,” BarbaraLazear Ascher relays several encounters with homeless individuals inNew York City. On the other hand, Lars Eighner highlights the perilsassociated with living on the streets and relying on dumpsters forfood. An analysis of both works reveals that homeless people undergodemeaning experiences that inspires compassion among the onlookers.
Homeless individuals are forced to adapt to inhumane conditions. AsLars Eighner says in On Dumpster Diving, “eating from thedumpsters is the thing that separates the dilettanti from theprofessionals” (6). Subsequently, he lists three principles thatguide homeless people while they scavenge for food. Firstly, they usetheir senses to “evaluate the condition of the found materials”(6). Homeless individuals must not only know the dumpsters of aparticular area but also perform regular checks. They must alsounderstand why certain food was discarded (Eighner). Admittedly, mostpeople would throw milk and groceries because they had gone bad.Notwithstanding, homeless people were convinced that some good foodcould still be found. In this regard, Eighner viewed canned goods as“among the safest foods to be found in dumpsters” (6). On theother hand, such individuals were often subjected to abuse. As Aschersays in On Compassion, most people “chase the homeless fromtheir midst with expletives and threats” (48). Consequently, thepitiful experiences of scavengers have been intensified by adversetreatment.
The desperate situation faced by homeless people should inspire ameasure of compassion. Granted, people such as college students“throw out many good things, including food” (Eighner 6). Hence,some homeless people track the academic calendar in anticipation offree provisions. Most food is dumped either during midterm or at theend of semesters. In many instances, students throw food because theyfeel it would have spoilt before they return to school. However, itmay be better for learning institutions to collect the unwanted itemsand offering them to the homeless. Ascher commends a shop owner whooffered “steaming coffee in a Styrofoam cup” to a homeless person(47). Therefore, conscientious humans are capable of showing ameasure of compassion.
Homeless people customarily undergo a period of dehumanization wherethey lose their sense of self-worth. In fact, Eighner learned “thatthere is a predictable series of stages a person goes through inlearning to scavenge” (7). Initially, homeless people are filledwith self-loathing and disgust. An individual is usually ashamed ofpicking food and other items from dumpsters. Homeless people battlethe stigma associated with “eating garbage” (7). However, thescavenger passes this stage when they find useful items from thedumpster. As the shyness gradually reduces, homeless people embracetheir lifestyle such that they begin hoarding things. Therefore,scavengers may appear fulfilled and unaffected. Homeless people arealso dehumanized by forceful institution. Ascher notes that suchinitiatives occur since “we do not wish to be reminded of thetentative state of our own well-being and sanity” (49). Hence, “thetroublesome presence is removed from the awareness of the electorate”(49).
Indeed, homeless people experience humbling situations that may seemtrivial to others. In this respect, people need to show understandingwhen dealing with scavengers. Inevitably, considering the direcircumstances of homeless individuals inspires compassion.Consequently, members of the community should be willing to offerfood and other items to the less fortunate persons.
Ascher, Barbara Lazear. “On Compassion.” 50 Essays: A PortableAnthology, edited by Samuel Cohen, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014,pp. 47-49.
Eighner, Lars. "On dumpster diving." The ThreepennyReview 47 (1991): 6-8.