Homelessness is one social ill that defies attempts at eradication or solutions to what many see as a widespread problem. Indeed, some homeless people choose to remain on the street, and others suffer from a host of problems including mental illness, addiction to alcohol or drugs, serious medical conditions that hamper attempts to progress in society. Some homeless people are violent, but the majority are not. And GW being in the center of D.C. – a city with one of the highest homeless rates in the nation – means that students will come into contact with homeless people. Students should continue to be involved in efforts to help those homeless people who seek assistance while still remaining conscious of their own safety.
D.C. is home to many organizations assisting homeless people in need, including Miriams Kitchen at Western Presbyterian Church adjacent to GW’s campus and programs run through GW’s own Neighbor’s Project. Becoming involved in these organizations is an excellent way to expand their services and do something to ease the strains on scarce resources devoted to the problem. These organizations need money, too, and students can help by donating their own income or soliciting donations through events like the Help the Homeless Walk.
Homelessness is not an isolated problem; it is intertwined with other wide-ranging issues affecting society. Twenty percent of homeless people have a mental illness, and 40 percent suffer from chemical addiction. Clearly more and better treatment programs for these people are needed, and students volunteering with organizations assisting homeless people could free up money and other resources that could be devoted to underlying problems like mental illness and addiction treatment, literacy and job skills programs and other worthwhile initiatives.
Befriending homeless people is not wrong. Acting kindly to people we encounter from all walks of life is commendable. But by working through an organization, one student can do more to help more people than by befriending a single homeless person. And that assistance can be given in a safe, controlled environment.
All homeless people are not dangerous, but some are. Most recently, on Sept. 11, a homeless man on 21st Street near campus pulled a knife on a student in a reported attempted robbery. Thankfully the student escaped unharmed.
Students should continue to help the homeless, but they should do so in the safest way possible.