“Not an identity, but rather a circumstance:” Panel aims to dispel stigmas surrounding homelessness

Panel members discuss misconceptions of homelessness with the audience at First Congregational UCC. (Joe Gilmore/DD)

Panelists including a former member of the homeless community gathered at the First Congregational United Church of Christ Thursday evening to discuss the myths and realities of homelessness.

Discussion centered around fighting misconceptions and falsehoods regarding homelessness. For instance, the idea that all homeless people walk around in tattered clothing pushing a shopping cart, when, in actuality, some are dressed in three-piece suits in order to not give the image of homelessness.

The panel was sponsored by Arizona State University’s Project Humanities. Founding Director of Project Humanities and ASU English professor Dr. Neal Lester said the word “homelessness” conjures up certain images in people’s minds.

“Homelessness is around us all the time,” Lester said. “What I hope tonight is to sort of complicate that and that people actually start to look beneath what we see to actually realize and witness the humanity of those who are unstable and also to recognize that homelessness is not an identity but rather a circumstance.”

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Lester was hopeful about the outcomes of Thursday’s discussion.

“I hope people leave a little bit more empathetic and willing to step outside of themselves in order to see the world in the eyes of other people,” Lester said.

Panelists and audience members discussed some of the stigmas about homelessness, such as laziness and fatigue. They also discussed how people see drug use as a factor that perpetuates homelessness, and how there are many people who are vulnerable to homelessness.

Angela Egan, an intern for Project Humanities, said there is a stereotype that all homeless people are the same.

“You have to realize that they all come from very unique situations,” Egan said. “They all have different stories, like us, like any person.”

Project Humanities runs a bimonthly initiative called Service Saturdays. Volunteers meet between Jefferson and Madison streets from 6:45 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. to distribute donations to the homeless community in Phoenix. They accept donations ranging from hygiene products and clothing to reading material.

One of the panel members was Robert Braxton, a veteran and a former member of the homeless community. He said the impact of Service Saturdays is significant.

“Quite often, they’re saving you,” Braxton said. “This is about people, folks. Someday, we need to wake up.”

Correction: March 24, 2017:

Due to an editing error, Angela Egan was referred to as Angela Hagan. It has been corrected.

Contact the reporter at jagilmore7@gmail.com.