Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homelessness is Not a Choice

Maslow's Hierarchy of Need

Today I will be volunteering at CKDU radio during their Homelessness Marathon. I thought that would be a good time to share with you an idea about homelessness I had. Its an idea, always open to change; it's not the end all, but it is a start.

There seems to be a lot of criticism over the methods in which we can help the homeless/impoverished. The basic argument about providing things for them is that under that sort of system, people would abuse the generosity and kindness of the community at large and would fail to find success in their lives but instead take advantage of the system to get by with as little effort as possible. I do not disagree with that statement. Many people would take advantage of this sort of system; initially.

The problem here isn’t what we commonly attribute it to: that human beings are inherently selfish and greedy in nature. It is, in fact, the opposite. Humans are empathetic and social by nature. We have simply created a social environment that promotes selfishness and greed. Why should we expect anyone to act differently than that when presented with an opportunity to be supported? Because they have the ability to do so, it just requires time and patience.

Most of us live a life of privilege and are therefore incapable of truly empathizing with the impoverished/homeless. We, according to Maslow (above), already, for the most part, have fulfilled the first three to four stages of his hierarchy. This is not the case with the people we speak of. In fact most of them have not even achieved the very first level of the hierarchy with is the basic necessities of life. It isn’t until we accomplish the final stage of Maslow’s chart that a shift in consciousness can even begin to occur.

At the final stage of Maslow’s hierarchy, we finally arrive at a point of development where we start to address our own morality. It is here where we, as individuals, begin to understand the underlying ethics required to co-exist peacefully and with respect in a true community. It requires ascending through each individual level of Maslow’s chart before we can even begin to expect a change in the thought processes of an individual.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that society loses its patience to frustration when attempting to address these important issues. Many of these people have to travel through 20+ years of personal and social development that they have been denied for so long. Most of us have developed along these guidelines over the initial part of our lives; these people have either had their development cut short or never been given the opportunity to develop. It is no wonder that in our world of instant gratification and visual sound-bites that we no longer carry the patience, or desire, to spend the proper resources to assist in the development of these people.

After having been a member of the Occupy Nova Scotia movement through the length of its occupation and beyond, this is one of the many things I have observed and taken away from my experiences. People do not understand the exact nature of the problem. They live in the ignorance that these people should ‘just get jobs’ or simply ‘try harder’ and they could fix their problems. Many people believe that these people are ‘lazy’, ‘dangerous’, ‘criminals’ or ‘deserve their lot in life’ when in fact, again, this is wrong. These people, these human beings, are the same as you and I. They think, they breathe, they feel, they exist. Their problem is one of a lack of needs.
Will providing them with free food, shelter and education solve the problem? In the short term, no it will not. It will in fact, possibly increase the amount of system abuse that we currently see with the way things work now. People will take advantage of the privileges given to them. However, in the long term, if we, as a people, provide patience, understanding and respect as these individuals are guided/helped through the basic hierarchy of needs, we will begin to see a change in their thoughts process. They will begin, slowly, to change the way they view their environment, the society they live in and the people that surround them. Given the proper opportunities, they will find themselves moving away from their former lives or selves and begin transforming into capable, productive, but most importantly, HAPPY individuals. This change will reflect in their behaviour and attitudes. This will lead to the lessening of abuse of a ‘welfare’ type system designed to create an effective change and solution to poverty/homelessness.