The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

“Sir, got any spare change?” I swiftly walk past the homeless man on Franklin Street, muttering, “Sorry, I don’t.”

I cringe, angry at myself for a not-so-genuine apology and angrier at the man for being such an annoyance.

“He shouldn’t be asking people for money. It’s shameful. Probably going to buy alcohol and drugs … How sad, how despicable.”

These thoughts float in my head for a few seconds at most; then, as if the homeless man was just a shadow, he slips from my mind and my thoughts wander to the day’s YoPo flavors. My pace quickens in anticipation for frozen yogurt while my hands tighten around a $5 bill, gripping onto a privilege that paints the lovely town of Chapel Hill.

That reaction was commonplace for me during my first year at UNC, and I still struggle with this reaction in my reflection on homelessness in our town.

The pleas of homeless people have become part of the symphony of Franklin Street: Cars accelerating on the road, set the beat to families and friends chatting as they walk along the street, the percussion of windy weather following all of these instruments.

The echoes of poverty are embedded in this sound, yet they are muffled by our inaction to do better.

And better we can do, particularly in respect to the number of homeless people living in Chapel Hill.

According to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness, there are around 110 homeless people living in Chapel Hill this year. To think that I have had lecture classes with more students than that makes me less intimidated by the idea that we can greatly reduce homelessness in our community.

The question is: How?

Throughout my time at UNC, I have taken courses that have explored poverty in the United States and the ethics that are associated with poverty alleviation, and I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with homeless people in Chapel Hill and Baltimore, where I have explored the issue of urban poverty on APPLES fall break trips during the past two years.

What I have learned from these academic and service experiences is that a crucial component of reducing homelessness is developing trust between the sheltered and unsheltered members of a community, and then through this trust connecting those in need with available resources.

It is the norm to quickly utter our negative reactions to the homeless on Franklin Street and beyond, as it is to blatantly ignore them as we walk by and even cross the street to completely avoid any interaction.

Being aware of the resources available to alleviate homelessness in Chapel Hill can transform you into an ally for the homeless. And a “Hello, how are you?” and a smile can go further than dollars and dimes.

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