Friday, February 10, 2012

Who are the poor, Lord, and how should I be treating them?

My divinely led fact-finding mission of who are the poor in OC (similar to the poor in the Bible and when Jesus walked the earth) continues, amazingly. Here's the epiphany I had today.

Background: Earlier this week, I visited Isaiah House and if you haven't read my post about that visit yet, you might want to do so; it may make this post clearer. That post's title - Homelessness in the OC - reveals the depth of my ignorance, i.e. how much I have yet to learn about the poor, and growth needed in me to see another person, especially someone who is materially poor and without a home, as made in the image of God and to treat them accordingly.

After our field trip, later that same evening in class, George Johnson, the retired pastor and our teacher, shared a conversation he had during our visit.  One of the men told George that he felt labeled when the term homeless was used to describe him. I didn't really understand George's point in sharing the story but I continued to think about it. Finally, I decided to research it because that's my gift, right besides being a slow learner? Bingo! The first article I found hit me :). I imagine God is smiling too. The article's title puts it well. The Stigma of Homelessness: The Impact of the Label "Homeless" on Attitudes Towards Poor Persons. The authors' abstract explains even more clearly:
Poor people have long been stigmatized and blamed for their situation. According to theory about stigma and about inequality-legitimating ideologies, homeless people should be stigmatized even more severely than the "generic poor". Recent research suggests that the opposite may be true, but the data used in comparing attitudes toward homeless and other poor people have not been strictly comparable. Thus the conclusions that can be drawn are limited. Using a vignette experiment designed to directly compare attitudes toward a homeless and a domiciled poor man and to compare the effects of being labeled homeless with those of being labeled mentally ill, we find that (1) the homeless man is blamed no less than the domiciled man and generally is stigmatized more severely; (2) the strength of the stigma attached to the "homelessness" label equals that for mental hospitalization; and (3) the stigmas of homelessness and mental hospitalization are independent of one another. Thus, in addition to the hardships of the homeless condition itself, homeless people suffer stigmatization by their fellow citizens. The results also suggest that the robust tendency to blame the disadvantaged for their predicament holds true for modern homelessness as well. 
Isn't Holy Spirit-led self-discovery a wonderful thing? Here's the complete citation for the article: Phelan, J., Link, B., Moore, R., and Stueve, A.  (1997). "The Stigma of Homelessness:  The Impact of the Label 'Homeless' on Attitudes Toward Poor Persons."  Social Psychology Quarterly 60 (4): 323-337.  Available online from JSTOR. Last visited 10 February, 2012.

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