Recently, Lee Benson drove around town and talked to a couple nice people and then wrote an article ("Beggars have plenty of choices," Aug. 19, 2010) about how it is easier being homeless than doing investigative journalism at the Deseret News. We feel he did not do enough research.
Before writing "Homeless Like Me," he should have spent at least a week on the streets, scraping by on nothing. At a minimum, that means:
No cash, credit or debit cards to pay for bus service, laundry, shaving razors, soap or hotel rooms;
No possessions that won't fit into a backpack;
No using his status as a journalist to get special treatment. The best way to avoid abusing his status as a reporter is to lose all of his identification or leave it all at home where he can't lose it.
After he goes a couple days without shaving or doing laundry, people will not connect his face with his photo in the newspaper.
If he follows these four rules for seven days, he will get some idea of what it is like to be homeless. If he wants an even more realistic experience, he can pretend that he was convicted of a felony 20 years ago and disclose that conviction to every potential landlord and employer he meets.
Since most homeless people have physical and/or mental disabilities, he could wear a brace on his back the whole time or try to get everywhere in a wheelchair. It is harder to simulate the experience of having mental health problems. There may not be a legal way to do that. If he talks to the homeless people he encounters during his week on the street, he will meet a lot of people with serious, often untreated, mental health problems. If he has empathy, he will imagine how those issues could emerge in a job interview.
Is Mr. Benson up to taking this challenge? If so, we'd be happy to help.
Patty Eagle, Jackie Sanchez and Bill Tibbitts represent Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit, grass-roots organization that helps low-income, disabled and minority Utahns to be advocates on their own behalf. It also provides services to help meet basic needs.