This Saturday, a group of UT students is hosting an annual 5K to raise money for Redeeming Hope Ministries, an organization which provides assistance and support to homeless people.
It seems in today's society, selfishness is seen as a right, disguised as individualism. We feel little obligation as far as empathy or concern for other people. This is especially true when referring to individuals of different cultures or belief systems and most especially true when involving those who are not as fortunate and as privileged as us.
Last year, as I handed out flyers for this 5K on Pedestrian Walkway, a student said to me, "What do the homeless matter? We're in college. That doesn't happen here."
When we hear about homelessness, we might think of a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or of a person suffering from some other form of mental illness. Whatever image of a person we associate with the state of being homeless, it's usually an "other."
We think, "This isn't me or anyone I'm associated with; that just wouldn't happen to us." Unconsciously, that stream of thought may continue or end with, "I'm too good for that."
However, homelessness is something that can happen to you no matter what your ethnicity, race, religion or economic background is. Wealth is transient and circumstances are unpredictable and uncontrollable. We would do well to remember this.
Of course, many people do not. In our society, homelessness can strip a person of his or her humanity. Homeless people are often seen as an annoyance to be swatted away, rather than as complex individuals who may face a variety of disparate situations.
In Columbia, N.C., officials plan to ban its downtown homeless population the same way they might ban littering or public smoking.
"They will be offered three options: Go to the city's riverfront shelter (which will eventually be moved further from downtown; one councilman suggested a location 15 miles away), get out of town altogether or go to jail."
The unfortunately widespread concept of treating the less fortunate as a monolithic mass is problematic and steeped in privilege. It's scarily easy for a council like the one in Columbia to sit comfortably in an air-conditioned room – esteemed as valued members of the community – to place a ban on a group of people.
Privilege actually plays a huge role in the issue of poverty and homelessness. Through privilege, people have managed to romanticize the state of being poor or homeless. It gives you the ability and audacity to look at Depression-era photos of homeless people and think, "Oh, this would be a super-fun theme for my wedding!"
Through the lens of privilege, one might see extreme poverty as a non-issue that can be simply solved in a way that in reality only shifts the problem.
Fortunately, in Knoxville, there are organizations like Redeeming Hope Ministries that aim to combat the actual issues an individual may face that can lead to a cycle of poverty and homelessness.
This past summer, I interned at the Volunteer Ministry Center, an agency similar to Redeeming Hope. At the VMC, people are treated like people. Individual stories are listened to and considered. Each person has a unique life situation, and deserves for that to be acknowledged. That, I believe, is true individualism.
I am very glad that strides are being made to help combat homelessness —not the people without homes — and I am very proud to be a part of a group that helps the organizations making those strides.
If you wish to register for the Running With Hope 5K this Saturday, the registration page is available on Redeeming Hope's website, redeeminghope.com.
Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at email@example.com.