03 March 2009


Is it lack of self-respect, lack of decency, that causes some homeless people to remain unwashed for days at a time? Or to wear the same clothes, unlaundered, day after day? Why did that panhandler you brushed off smell so bad? Why did you quit your volunteer job at a shelter or soup kitchen, because the lack of personal hygiene among those you served was so overwhelming? Don't these people have any pride? In the summer, when the Mary Magdalene center on Main Street has a crowd, when the shower stalls in the Drop are fouled with urine, blood, feces, broken bottles, or just ankle deep with stagnant water, then you might not get a shower that day. And you might not have change to put into a laundromat washer. If you have been able to purchase some anti-bacterial wet wipes, you can make due with those. If not, then you are going to smell bad enough by noon to repel boarders and alienate affection. A human body, if left unwashed long enough, smells worse than dirt. It's not just snobbery. When I was homeless, my inability to maintain proper hygiene wasn't just humiliating --- it made me feel anonymous, almost non-existent. Hygiene helps us maintain our health. But a lack of hygiene doesn't just leave us unhealthy and odorous; lack of hygiene takes away our individuality. People with good hygiene are all unique. People with little or no hygiene are all the same. How is this possible? Sometimes lack of access to a shower, sink and toilet, or to a washing machine and dryer, is not evidence of a lack of character. When you're homeless, you do the best you can to stay clean, but there will be days when people are offended by your negative ambiance.


Anonymous said...

Isn't is a shame that most folks seldom recognize that America's homeless do not have 24/7 to showers, bathrooms, clean clothing, etc.? Even worse - isn't it a shame that so Americans will judge the content of a persons character based on outer appearances alone?

VisuaLingual said...

But, the perverse thing is that some aspects of this have been co-opted by fashion -- ripped and stained jeans, styling products that emulate unwashed hair, the grunge and punk looks, etc. There's a way in which this is acceptable, and even desirable, but only when it's a simulation.

davidcarney said...

Nostalgie de la boue. It's an old story. We wear 19th century miner's trousers and call them blue jeans.

All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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