Graphic of individual in front of a "broken" house. Credit: Kaley Schneider / Mustang News

Eden-Rose Baker is an opinion columnist for Mustang News and journalism junior. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.

There is no denying that homelessness is a prevalent issue in San Luis Obispo County. It became a huge topic in November’s election cycle. Both former State Assembly District 30 candidates needed a plan of action to help combat the housing crisis SLO is experiencing. City council members Michelle Shoresman and James Papp both ranked housing and homelessness as their top priorities. 

When I was at the Jamba Juice on Chorro Street last year, I saw police officers kick a homeless man off the sidewalk out front and tell him to go downtown. The police tend to send homeless individuals downtown, which I believe is so that they are concentrated in one area. That does not mean that they are going to be treated well once they get downtown. 

I was downtown in June when I saw a woman call the police on a man for being homeless. The man didn’t do anything to her; all he did was exist. The police didn’t do anything or make any arrests, but that doesn’t change what happened.

This woman proved a pretty harsh reality: in society, homeless people are not treated like people.

I know this first hand because my dad was homeless during my junior year of high school. When people found out, they would often treat me like I was less than they were. I felt alienated in my classes because homeless people are seen as dirty and lazy, and my peers saw me as that.

I’ve also seen the shame carried by my dad because it isn’t exactly easy to afford housing, but he was seen as a bad person for not having it. I have seen how being homeless and struggling with addiction broke his close relationships.

Just because someone struggles with addiction, homelessness or both, it does not mean that they are not human. According to the University of Michigan, when someone is an addict, their brain stops producing the same amount of dopamine as the average human brain. They become reliant on drugs or alcohol to produce the hormone that they are used to occurring naturally.

At this point, using is no longer a choice, but addicts see it as a necessity. So, people, like my dad, lose their jobs, housing and relationships to fulfill what they see as a basic human need.

And trust me, addicts know that they are at a low point when they are trading food, housing and their relationships for drugs. In fact, suicide rates amongst the homeless population are nine times the national average. 

So, even if you don’t want to associate with an addict — which is perfectly valid — you also don’t have to go out of your way to be unkind to them. If a homeless person is existing, there is no need to mock them or call the police. It’s not worth making someone feel lower about themselves. Also, most homeless people are just trying to survive and are not trying to hurt anyone, so most times, there is no reason to fear them.

The stereotype that all homeless people are addicts is harmful. According to the Washington Post, the rates of homelessness are increasing across the country due to the current recession. At this point, anyone could be just one budget cut or rent hike away from losing their job or home.

And yet, homeless people are blamed for existing and making a city seem less beautiful or desirable to live in when individuals can’t possibly be at fault for a growing epidemic.

I am glad that government officials in SLO are taking the housing crisis seriously and are seeing homeless people as people. We are all human beings, and we need to support one another. Being homeless — no matter the reason — doesn’t make a person any less human or any less deserving of support.