Bringing Beauty to Homelessness Pt. 2: Hygiene as a Right, Not a Luxury

Bringing awareness to homelessness is done in a variety of ways, and has become a global phenomenon. In keeping with my previous post about bringing beauty to homelessness, I want to focus on some trends that have been taking hold to make life more physically beautiful for homeless individuals.

A shave and a haircut can make a person feel great, but it also has the ability to change lives. From New York to Melbourne to London, to even Ogden, Utah, hairdressers have been volunteering their time to give haircuts to homeless individuals. Some go around neighborhoods, meeting individuals and documenting their changes in appearance on Instagram and other forms of social media. Others, like Mandie Barnes in Utah, open their salons and bring in other people to join the event. Barnes’ event, held in 2015, serviced over 100 people and provided them with food, clothing for the holidays, and more. Barnes and the other stylists note the added confidence and dignity the clients experience, as well as the positive impact the stylists experience in knowing they helped someone.

In addition to a haircut, others are helping homeless individuals feel better physically by providing them with places to get clean. Lava Mae, an organization started by Doniece Sandoval, repurposes old buses into mobile shower and hygiene stations for homeless individuals in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sandoval began the project after hearing a homeless woman’s sadness about possibly never being clean again, and realizing how few public places there were for homeless people to shower. The buses dock in different spots around the cities, and provide homeless individuals with personal treatment and a place to get clean. A similar project is Dignity on Wheels, based out of Palo Alto, California, which also provides laundry services on repurposed buses. All of these innovative services make us think about how lucky we are to have access to water and a consistent place to get clean. Something as simple as a shower has the power to impact someone’s dignity and sense of self, pointing to the importance of something as simple as water and personal hygiene to our lives. Hygiene is a right, not a luxury, and it’s up to us to make a difference and make it possible for those without access to it every day.

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Looking At The Bigger Picture

Homelessness is the responsibility of all of us. Those with mental illness, physical or mental handicaps, or simply hardships or misfortune should be supported by those around them. Harriet McDonald in Helping the Homeless Help Themselves puts forward the position that “ We need to expect more from homeless people….” She asserts the notion that “Rather than condemn the homeless to lives on the government dole, let’s demand more of them — and ourselves.” This old school mentality where the homeless simply need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” is antiquated at best and dangerous at worst.

In the majority of the country’s major cities basic resources such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens etc. are simply not enough to meet the rising tide of desperate people. According to sfgate.com  “Homelessness in and around big U.S. cities increased 3 percent this year, even as the nation’s overall rate declined 2 percent, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development“. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness “Despite a national decrease in unsheltered homelessness, only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations…”  this year. There is still a great way to go in getting those most in need off of the streets and putting the necessary housing measures in place.  The report reads, “Transitional housing capacity continued to decrease nationwide with 40 states and D.C. reducing capacity…..utilization of transitional housing was low, with 81.7 percent of beds filled …. the lowest utilization of transitional housing recorded since 2007.”

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We fundamentally disagree with the assertion that “… we will never be able to … add enough  government-subsidized housing units to shelter everyone forever. Nor should taxpayers be expected to pay forever for people who appear only cursorily unable to make it on their own.” The real truth of the matter is that we must take steps to first providing the basic necessities. Only then, will we as a society be able to lift those out of their misfortune and incorporate them into the larger community as a whole.         

McDonald goes at length to place her organization “The Doe Fund” on a pedestal as the ideal model for how to solve the crisis of homelessness. This organization however is not the ideal. It effectively excludes many who may be unable to work due to physical or mental illness or handicaps or even single mothers who have to look after children.  Due to the lack of basic resources available to most able-bodied homeless men and women, the odds that they would be willing to take a chance on such an organization is doubtful. Without some form of bedrock beneath them to launch from, “The Doe Fund” represents more confusion than opportunity.puffins

In short, although I can understand the notion that taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the weight of the homeless population, I can reason that in time more expectations should be put upon the homeless to engage and contribute to society. However in order to get to that time and place the homeless must be first given some ground to stand upon so that they can gain the confidence and security to take new opportunities such as “The Doe Fund” when they arise.

Best,

Ryan

The homeless deserve the same basic joys.

Homelessness is a problem in America, which you should know by now, after reading the other wonderful posts on this page. In a society that is driven by materialism, it can be hard for someone who has nothing to feel a sense of worth. However, human beings aren’t actually defined by what they have and own, but by who they are. It is important that we put an emphasis on these characteristics, as the homeless may not have a lot of clothes, food, or any of the other items many are privileged to have. Rather, we should listen to their stories and focus on their qualities because they are people too. It is important to see that in a world, where a lot of power is decided by this buying factor, that there are people who stand up for what is right and see people, all people, for what they are–after all, we all sometimes just need a good cup of coffee.

View story at Medium.com

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