As one who works for homeless individuals, I am deeply pained by Jeanne Taylor's community essay, "After One Con Too Many, the Spirit of Charity Withers" (March 7). I am mostly troubled by the fact that there is so much of what she writes with which I agree.
Taylor is embarrassingly right when she implies that the behavior of some of the homeless is inexcusable and disgraceful even to women and men of goodwill. Those in need have an ethically sound position when they expect certain benefits from society, but with every benefit received is attached a corresponding obligation.
Nevertheless, I must take issue with Taylor on certain points. She refers to talking to a transient man as "lunacy" and "stupid bravery." Please stop such talk. Homeless individuals are not animals.
She also writes with some apparent surprise that a man shrugged off his homeless status as "no big thing." A lesson I thought every woman knew about men was that, well, where ego is involved we lie, a whole lot. What do we expect from a transient man? "Oh yeah, I'm miserable and this is totally my fault. What the heck was I thinking with that career move! Boy, am I a loser." That's not going to happen. My friends and I are not even honest about the number of points we each score on our recreational basketball team, much less the conditions of our personal lives.
Finally, I am most disturbed by the underlying ethic of Taylor's altruism; in short, this no longer "feels good" so let's stop. Our world is filled with tremendous hurt. It is difficult to resist the temptation of engaging only in activities that elicit personal reward. We must commit ourselves to a better ethic. Men and women of goodwill have a categorical imperative to do right, simply because it is right, not because it feels good. Frustration is an immoral excuse for unmerciful behavior.
Mercy House Transitional
Not since the Reagan years have I read something so infuriating. Contrary to what you believe, homelessness is never a sought-after state of being.
I speak from what I know. I live on the fringe, determined that my spirit will not be defeated by society's dismissal of me. I refuse to live with a needle in my arm, a pipe to my lips or a bottle in my mouth. Therefore, I struggle every day to maintain my rightful place, rejecting the idea that I am not deserving, ignoring the contempt my presence generates.
I am a breath away from making my home in a hidden enclave adjacent to the Hollywood Freeway. After six weeks of job hunting and 34 applications, my money has run out. Despite my 13 years of experience in the restaurant industry, I am unable to secure a position.
Shame on a society where people are forced to stand in the winter rain for a less than minimum-wage job. And shame on you for admiring their suffering to justify your lack of charity. When their pain explodes into violence, will you continue to hold up their attitude for an example, as though it were a shaking finger?
LINDA G. DESKIN
Jeanne Taylor's essay describing parents who use their children to beg aptly described many of our reactions, stating how the urban nightmare had descended to "children being used as pawns in con games their parents play."
I could not help but wonder, however, if the parents hadn't learned it from those TV commercials where children are used to pander cereals, soaps and movies. Those responsible are not the homeless, however, but the boards of directors of our blue chip firms, our ad agencies, our megamedia and our vast middle classes who respond in the supermarkets. It is time we all stopped using 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds and 10-year-olds as "pawns in con games." I abhor both, but I can't see much difference.
IRYNE C. BLACK Newport Beach
As a student, I have had the opportunity to work at a nonprofit organization that serves the homeless. Although I must admit to sharing similar feelings of callousness toward the homeless, I quickly changed my ignorant opinion.
Jeanne Taylor commented on a particular family that sought money instead of food. In the mother's defense, it is a possibility that she needed diapers or infant formula or bus tokens and figured that people would be more willing to give if they thought they needed food.
Taylor must not realize that it is nearly impossible to get a job if one does not have an address, and without a job, it is nearly impossible to get an address. Homeless people have been continuously snubbed and dehumanized. I am appalled that someone who works in a nonprofit organization to help the disadvantaged would contribute to these sentiments.
I am struck by Taylor's willingness to presume that the best "way to encounter the homeless" is from the window of a passing bus. What she sees, or at least what she chooses to pay attention to, is the stereotypes we have all grown tired of: the drunken bum, the happy-go-lucky hobo, the strung-out junkie.
I would like to introduce Taylor and others who refuse to look beyond their passing cars or buses to the face of the real homeless. The men, women and children I work with are not proud to be homeless. They are people who need a second chance, working hard to get their lives back together.
Instead of trying to decipher who is and who is not "deserving of our benevolence and compassion," as Taylor suggests, we must use our energies toward creating realistic and permanent solutions to the problems that cause homelessness. Only then will we realize that the true spirit of charity goes beyond the mere act of giving money and feeling good about ourselves. The true spirit of charity lies in our willingness to help another human being learn how to help him or herself.
ALLISON M. LEE
Associate Director of Development
L.A. Family Housing Corp.