[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hoever first claimed that all publicity is good publicity had either lived a very charmed life until that point or invested in a very large bottle of vodka that night. Depending on the circumstances, naively placing someone under an unsolicited spotlight can be downright cruel, no matter your intentions. Right now, nobody knows that better than the homeless population of New York City.
Recently, residents of the metropolis have taken to social media in an attempt to address the prominent issue of homelessness in their city, where over 57,700 people live in shelters, and many more have nowhere but the cold streets to call their own. Their goal is allegedly to draw the city’s attention to the problem of homelessness and push them to address it.
For instance, Facebook group Third & 33rd was created as a space where people could “share photos of disturbing things they see [in the streets] and push collectively for change,” according to group admin Lauren Pohl. Meanwhile, smartphone application Map the Homeless, developed by Murray Hill resident David Fox, allows users to upload photos of homeless people to identify which areas have the densest homeless populations. Photos can be submitted with accompanying hashtags like #NeedsMedicalAid or #PassedOut, to alert people to the plights of the subjects.
Fortunately, the majority of New York’s participating citizens appear to be morally sound in their motives — helping both the disadvantaged and the city. Unfortunately, the relative privilege of your average New York citizen has blinded them to the idea that they may not, in fact, know how best to handle this issue.
These photos paint people in a humiliating light, framing them as a problem to be solved.
None of these “activists” appear to have actually consulted members of the homeless popular on what kinds of aid they would benefit them most. Rather, they’ve decided for themselves what the ideal action plan would be. Never mind that the vast majority have neither experience with homelessness nor any other notable qualifications for taking charge of this situation.
It’s a very condescending way to offer assistance. They may be trying to help, but ultimately they’re treating homeless populations not as equals in need of aid but as children who don’t know what they’re doing and who aren’t in a position to understand these people’s needs.
Frankly, being showcased on the Internet in this manner might be the very last thing the homeless in New York need right now. These photos paint them in a humiliating light, framing them as a problem to be solved rather than as disadvantaged individuals who deserve better.
When selecting hashtags, how often do you suppose the average user of Map the Homeless asks for a person’s name? Their story? What they want, what they need? How often do you think people so much as stop to ask for permission to post that photo they just took?
Probably not often, if at all. That’s really dehumanizing.
New York City cannot magically end homelessness and poverty overnight, no matter how much its citizens complain about it. Raising awareness sounds nice, but at the end of the day, if the city had a method to alleviate the issue, they would have to be truly monstrous not to have implemented it by now.
If people really want to help the homeless, perhaps they should take action themselves rather than complain to others on social media. One thing that any disadvantaged person can agree on is the value of a meal, or clean water, or shelter. There are volunteer and charity opportunities, and so many other ways to provide aid; methods that don’t compromise people’s privacy, and allow them to retain their dignity.