Richard RiouxPauline HartePatti RasmussenTim WhyteLeon Worden

It's wrong to hate the homeless

Pauline Harte · November 4, 1997

I remember the first time my kids saw real, honest-to-goodness homeless people. The second-grade class of my oldest daughter had taken a field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits and, as a helper, I was allowed to bring my other daughter, who had not yet begun "real" school. The field trip was over, and we sat down in a nearby park to eat our sack lunches. My little group noticed some scruffy-type men sifting through trash cans, glumly inspecting discarded lunch bags.

My little, ever-helpful group decided it would be much better to give these down-on-their-luck gents fresh food, and a few of them walked over to proffer half-eaten (but fresh) peanut butter and jelly, and tuna sandwiches.

Shining eyes, innocent hearts, and sticky fingers breached the somber acquiescence of the haves and the have-nots. "Take this, mister. It's fresh!"

"OH MY GOD," came a plaintive cry of protest. "Don't let the children near those men! They're homeless and filthy! GET BACK! GET BACK!" A wild-eyed mom ran between the children and men. Stunned, the children jumped back, recoiling in fear and confusion.

Innocence lost. In an instant, the perplexed faces of the children reflected the fear and accusatory tone of the ranting mom. In an instant, suspicion masked the once-shining faces of charitable children eager to help those I need. In an instant, my little group learned that those who have nothing are bad.

At the time, I strongly disagreed with the way this situation was handled.

Ranting mom and I had words. In front of the kids. What a mess! But I certainly understood this mom's concern. I, myself, am and always have been an overprotective mom. I see danger and crazed predators around every corner. But I also feel very strongly that children must learn how to be cautious without learning how to hate. Tiny seeds of suspicion were sown in innocent, giving hearts that day. And in my opinion, suspicion is the real root of all evil.

It was suspicion that enabled a madman and his fellow lunatics to systematically exterminate millions of Jews and other "undesirables" while an entire nation and much of the world yawned politely and looked the other way. Hitler sowed the seeds of suspicion and the fiends of hell sprang up from festering soil.

I am not, in any way, comparing the plight of the homeless to the Holocaust. I simply wish to point out that even the tiniest suspicions are dangerous.

Sure, we have seen the word "holocaust" replaced with the phrase "ethnic cleansing." But that is precisely what many people wish to do with the homeless. Wipe them out! Cleanse the land of human refuse, as one writer to The Signal suggested.

I rescue stray animals all the time. I feed my neighbors' cats and dogs when they come to visit, and wild animals always know where to grab a midnight snack.

But if I saw a rag-tag group of homeless persons meandering up my street, I'd be on the phone to the Sheriff faster than you could blurt, "Mister, can you spare a dime?"

Realistically speaking, it would not be wise to fill one's home with homeless people. But demanding the extermination of a group of people who do not contribute to society makes me just a little uncomfortable.

Whenever I see a homeless person, I just can't help thinking, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." No, it's not possible to turn one's home into a homeless shelter. But we can support the Santa Clarita Interfaith Council and our own City Council for their efforts to give shelter and aid to our area's homeless population.

A few years ago, my daughter set off on her first trip with the Sierra Service Project where, with many other children, she helped build and repair homes for Native Americans. When she got home, she looked around and said to me, "I never realized how much we had until I saw how little other people have."

Out of the mouths of babes.

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