“Just a few months ago I was with my friends Mike and Kim and we had been walking around having a great time in the city. We then exited a store and Kim said something under her breath like, “Oh, no,” when I looked in the same direction to find a middle aged man with a drunken stare to him. She knew this man as “the town drunk” and he had been homeless for years.
He asked us for the time and we replied, but he didn’t just stop with that and followed us across the street talking up a storm. He was telling his whole life story in the fifteen minutes we stood there: he talked about how he grew up living poor with his family and how he wanted to be educated and go through college to get a good job so he could live well.
But he said his parents just didn’t have the money and it was impossible. I felt threatened as did Mike and Kim from the drunken gestures of this man and thought to myself, if this man wanted to make something of his life, I mean if he really wanted to, he would try harder and somehow do what he wanted. We tried to leave as soon as possible. But then I began reading these essays about the homeless and it started to change my mind.
The essay “Virginia’s Trap” by Peter Marin especially affected me because of the way it portrays the young woman that has nothing going for her and almost everything against her. I though about this and decided I had misunderstood the whole plight of this population and thought there must be a better way to help these unfortunate people. How should we help the homeless and should we try even though they may not help themselves? I figure that is the most important question that needs to be answered if anything is to be done. Of the essays I analyzed Awalt’s “Brother Don’t Spare a Dime” was the one essay that went against the idea of helping the homeless because the author thinks it’s their own fault for being the way they are. The other two essays are easier on the homeless and want to lend a helping hand. In “Address Unknown: Homeless in Contemporary America” James Wright thinks that helping the homeless by giving them more benefits that they will be more prosperous. Peter Marin has the same idea in “Virginia’s Trap” where the young woman is in need of just a little bit more money to stay the way she is in a home but doesn’t receive enough. While Awalt’s narrow view of homeless people gives him the idea that all should not be helped in anyway, Wright and Marin go towards the idea of helping the people because they have already had a rough life and do in fact need this help to go anywhere in life. Awalt’s statement that homeless people are a “waste of time” is a very general statement in the least. Throughout his essay he only mentioned working with one homeless person trying to help him through a detoxification program. This person failed the procedure and left to go back to the streets and drink again. (Awalt 239) Just because this one person didn’t have the endurance to undergo such an operation doesn’t mean others wouldn’t. What we need to have is a more “hands on” program with these homeless people to give them the attention that they need so that a majority of the people will not end up like this but eventually in their own homes. The opposite view is shared by Wright and Marin in their more lengthy and detailed essays. Wright starts out saying that not all homeless are the same and should not all be treated the same. He states there are different classes of homeless people and there are the worthy and unworthy homeless, meaning that only some deserve to remain this way because they don’t try to live otherwise. These small amounts of people, about five percent, don’t deserve the time and money spent on trying to get them off the streets but the only way to find out if they don’t is to try at least once with them. If it doesn’t work out that’s a small amount of effort wasted but if it does work it is a grand success and another homeless person is off the street. Marin has the same view with “Virginia’s Trap” adding a great deal of sympathy for the main character in the story by telling it from her point of view. Virginia is also in a different class of homelessness, the subset of the poverty that is marginally housed. She is “trapped” in between housing and none at all because of her poor background and problems with low income. The author even tries to help Virginia stay in her house at the time but it all collapses financially on her again. (Marin 250) That is why benefits for people who are actually trying to get back on their feet should be raised according to their situation. I believe that Awalt’s view of the homeless is a narrow-minded, stubborn one and that Wright and Marin should at least try to help these people and give them the benefit of the doubt. I realized that I was wrong from my first interpretation of the middle aged man I met in the city and that it is hard for him to have a chance in this world without the proper money and help to back him up. In some cases the homeless may not deserve all the help we try to give them but if we are to destroy this ongoing problem we have to: as Wright states, “The federal government must massively intervene in the private housing market, to halt the loss of additional low-income units and to underwrite the construction of many more; and benefits paid to the welfare-dependent population must double.” (Wright 265) I believe that this is a very good idea along with the increased effort of individuals that try to help these homeless and that it could seriously help the problem.”
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