"Bri," the 24-year-old homeless woman given an internship by Elle's E. Jean, made her blogging debut today with a piece titled "The New Face of Homelessness." Unfortunately, parts of this well-intentioned piece are as cringe-worthy as its title.
Bri begins by explaining that she has spent the last six months "homeless and living in a beat-up old trailer," with her boyfriend. Once her trailer was towed away, with everything she owned inside of it, Bri moved into a "a beat-up, non-running RV on a dusty back lot," where she currently resides. Her stint with Elle, she claims, is an opportunity for her to "reverse the prevalent negative attitudes and common stereotypes of homelessness," but if this particular article is any indication, Bri seems to be trapped inside a few of those stereotypes herself.
She wants to make it very clear that the traditional definition of "homelessness" is incorrect: "Its legal definition," she writes, "is 'an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, or a person who resides in a shelter, welfare hotel, transitional program, or place not ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodations, such as streets, cars, movie theatres, abandoned buildings, etc." It also includes children and youths 'who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason'." This, she says, should be how people view the homeless: as individuals who simply lack a consistent residence, and not as "bums" or "drug addicts."
But here's where Bri (or, perhaps, Elle) gets into trouble: she presents "the new face of homelessness" as a type of homelessness that deserves more attention than the plight of your standard bum, addict, or untreated schizophrenic. "I want to help put a human face on homelessness, so to speak," she writes, by which she means, of course, "white and middle class."
There is something very icky about this entire set-up: while I don't doubt that Bri has good intentions, and seeks to break down many misconceptions that the public has about the homeless (that they are lazy, that they're on drugs, that it could never happen to them) the whole "new face of homelessness" aspect reeks of a Derelicte view of looking at things. Homelessness can only have a "human face" when it happens to middle class white girls? If there's a "new face of homelessness," what happens to the "old face?" What about the people who really are struggling on the streets with drug addiction and undiagnosed mental illness? Do they just fade into the background? Are they less human because they weren't selected by E. Jean to write a column for Elle magazine?
"Even those that do fit the negative stereotypes are no less deserving of help; if anything, they are far more in need of it than the majority," Bri writes, "With the necessary assistance, there is no reason that they couldn't become a useful contributor to society." One hopes that Bri, given the opportunity to contribute her own personal experiences with homelessness to the rest of the world, will be able to further explore those negative stereotypes, and perhaps recognize that there's a "human face" behind every story. Her heart is clearly in a good place, and hopefully her column will reflect more than just the magazine's slightly off-putting attempt to attach a "new face" to a sad and ongoing issue.
The New Face Of Homelessness [Elle]