There isn’t usually anything particularly remarkable about seeing a homeless man in Ann Arbor. For a city that takes pride in its social liberalism, Ann Arbor is home to prominent economic disparity and poverty.
However, the other day, I saw a peculiar homeless man. What caught my eye was the sign the man was holding: “I won’t lie. I’m just lazy. Please help me.”
The sign was simple and seemingly uncontroversial, but after reading it, I found my own person views openly challenged. As a die-hard liberal, I assumed that all homeless and impoverished people became homeless and impoverished due to factors and circumstances beyond their control. I assumed that these were single mothers, families bankrupted by high medical bills and other people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t make ends meet. While in some cases my assumptions might be right, in this situation, with this particular man, they were proven wrong by three sentences written on a cardboard sign.
I was shocked, to say the least, and clutched my change as I quickly strolled past the man, trying to avoid eye contact. But then I started to think, “What if he really is ‘just lazy?’ Why should that, in any way, lessen my concern for his well-being?”
Perhaps my concern for the homeless stems from a selfish fear that it could happen to me. Perhaps my support for soup kitchens and welfare programs stems from a belief that “shit happens,” and that I could fall on hard times when I least expect it. If that day comes, I certainly hope that other people, including Uncle Sam, would lend me a helping hand.
In the world’s wealthiest nation, every person ought to have access to basic necessities. I’m not referring to necessities like football tickets and Starbucks coffee. I mean the bare necessities: food, clothing and shelter. Everyone ought to have these things, or have these things provided for them if they can’t provide them for themselves. A lazy person should not be any less entitled to these necessities of survival.
Some conservative critics often suggest that poverty-stricken people are freeloaders who don’t want to work or provide for themselves and that society shouldn’t be required to financially support them. I’ll admit that there seems to be something very unfair in the idea that people who work should have to support a limited number of people who basically choose not to. However, it is also unfair to force someone to be homeless when there are other options to keep that person off the street, like financial support from the government.
Of course, I have my doubts about whether or not this particular homeless man was “just lazy.” I suspect there was far more to his story than just what his sign said. Regardless, it shouldn’t matter whether he’s lazy, mentally ill or just unlucky. His well-being is no more or less important than anyone else’s. So if I see that homeless man again, I’ll give him some change. Even if he’s the laziest person on the planet, he probably needs it more than I do.
Brian Flaherty is a Business junior.