Homeless people are possibly the most misunderstood group of people in the United States. Too often, the homeless population of America is looked at as a group of people who have made wrong decisions in their lives to bring them to the point where they are homeless. However, homeless people, just like regular Americans, are very complex, each with their own story.
Recently, I was on spring break in Miami, Florida, noticing the persistent homelessness that I saw wherever I went. Miami is a city with affluence and poverty juxtaposed all throughout the city. When I walked about 100 feet out of the 4-star Loews hotel in South Beach, I stumbled upon a homeless man with a powerful message. I initially stopped when I saw his art works, which were made only out of coconut palm leaves, caught my eye. I began to have a conversation with him. He told stories about the pieces he made and how each one of them demonstrated that, if you put your mind to something and work hard enough, you can achieve that goal. Not only did fictional stories that went along with his palm art make me believe his message, but also his own story proved this as well. He told me a detailed story about his many and varied obstacles -- from his house burning down and him never receiving an insurance check as well to the death of his wife -- all of which prompted him to walk with his dog and his last four dollars from Santa Cruz, California to Miami, Florida. He was determined to leave the place where, it seemed, all of his problems derived. Later, he had mentioned how he finally made enough money to move into an apartment. The message he preached and his positivity towards life made clear to me that too often we approach homeless individuals with preconceived notions that do not account for their entire, complex, humanity. Our judgements force them into limiting boxes that prevent us from truly connecting on a human to human level.
The homeless of America are looked at by many as living without a home due to their own bad decisions. Although this is true in some cases, in many it is not. This negative stigma towards the homeless population of the United States causes them to be literally stepped over, ignored, forgotten.
My experience with this man further added to my understanding that humans are simply humans, whether homeless or not. More Americans need to understand this because it will not only make the United States a more understanding society, but also make it into a society better educated on the issue of homelessness. Furthermore, better education on this complex issue would allow us to make better decisions on how to approach the issue both politically and socially.