In the last week, my piece on #FitchTheHomeless has gotten a lot of attention. It inspired the second-most single-day hits that my blog has seen, and it was republished at The Good Men Project and on the Huffington Post. With that kind of traffic, though, comes a lot of criticism. Lots of people said things like, “So what you’re saying is that we should just never attempt to serve other people? We should just sit on our asses?”
Others claimed that the ends justify the means, saying that it doesn’t matter if homeless people are being dehumanized because they’re being given something they need: clothes.
But absent from those criticisms is an understanding of the very voices that are inherently left out of most any conversation that takes place online: people experiencing homelessness.
In her brilliant response to #FitchTheHomeless published at Relevant Magazine, Rachel Karman, a social worker who works daily with the people who live in Skid Row, decided to do something that the creator of #FitchTheHomeless never thought to do: Talk to the people the campaign purports to help!
I cannot encourage you enough to read her entire article, but in case you don’t do so, at least read this excerpt:
And acknowledging how emotionally invested I am in this situation, I thought it might be best for me and for us all to hear and learn from the people whose opinion on this really matters. I decided to show some of the people I work with the video and write down—unfiltered—what was said. Here’s what I heard:
“Wow, that CEO guy is a bad dude.”
“Why the h*** would he pass out clothes to us that he said date rapists wear?”
“I’ve seen my nephew wear that brand of clothing and he’s not a date rapist.”
“It doesn’t look like he is explaining what he is doing to anyone he is giving clothes to. That’s not right.”
“Why isn’t he talking to people when he gives them the clothes? I hate it when people who think they are do-gooders act like that.”
“Why did he just give that large man those tiny pants? I thought he just said they don’t make those sizes? That doesn’t seem very helpful at all.”
“He’s not even asking if he can film them, does he think this is a zoo?”
“Why would we want our ‘own brand of clothing?’ Especially clothing he said ‘douche bags’ wear.”
“I’m not interested in being this guys billboard or social cause, unless it’s to get people homes.”
“We may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean we want to wear ‘douchey’ clothes to prove a point—what purpose would that serve, to dehumanize us even more than we already have been?”
“If someone walked up to me to take a picture of me to put on the Internet, I would be really pissed off.”
But the comment that I think sums up everything that needs to be said, was made by a woman who sat quietly through the whole video, before simply stating, “Well, that sort of hurt my feelings.”
So before we go justifying our paternalistic “charity,” let’s at least take some time to listen to those who are being affected by campaigns like #FitchTheHomeless.
And for the opportunity to do so in this case, I am endlessly thankful to the powerful voices from Skid Row who spoke up and to Rachel Karman for sharing them.