“It's not very difficult to show a foreign country to French people, exotically. Or to show something exotic to Americans. But to show your own country to your own people is a most difficult thing.”
The man pictured above is John, he is regularly at the CHUM center. Photo by Daniel Badhwa.
As I swung the glass door open to the CHUM center, a blast of hot air smacked me in the face as the sound of screaming children filled the interior. I traded glances with several people and awkwardly stood there for a moment, feeling slightly out of place. I pushed on farther into the building.
I knew I was on a mission to bring an issue to light. Judgements and stereotypes of the homeless in Duluth run rampant, misrepresenting the homeless in this community.
“People think they're lazy, drug addicts, alcoholics, and that they just want to live off the system,” said Deb Holman, a worker at CHUM. This organization provides basic needs, offers stability, and offers a compassionate hand to those in need. “People wonder why they don't just get a job. If they just had a chance to meet people, that viewpoint would change because they would realize that the homeless are still people, like you and me.”
I was introduced to several men and women. One of them was Max Peterson.
As I set my recorder down and peered across the table, I was met by a glance. A man who has clashed with more hardship than anyone should sat across from me, ready to pour out his insight and tell his story.
Peterson has been battling with poverty and homelessness for years. Not only is he faced with depression and a tough financial situation, but he also is regularly plagued by stereotypes and judgements he says are painful.
“It's really just like racism,” Peterson said. “The problem is that a lot of people think that it's due to laziness and it's really not. It creates a world where you feel like you don't belong.”
Peterson theorizes that a lot of the issues stem from the media, which he says seem to only focus on the negative issues.
“A lot of homelessness is caused by mental disorder and feeling defeated,” Peterson said. “These are ignited by society and the media. It makes you feel like you need to give up."
The more I listened to Peterson speak, the more I was impressed by his knowledge and understanding of the flaws in society. He spoke in such an articulate manner, I knew his story needed to be heard from his own voice.
Listening to these interviews adds another dimension to understanding these people. By simply listening to them speak, it breaks the stereotypes that many have become so accustomed to.
This is a recording of my interview with Peterson.
Along with Peterson, several others volunteered to talk with me.
Don Hawn went through a rough patch in his life. He ended up in hard times, which left him homeless for a while.
Hawn now volunteers regularly at the CHUM center because, since he was homeless, he can relate to what the current homeless population is going through.
“I used to be homeless," Hawn said. " I'm not different from anyone else. People are scared of the unknown.”
Mark McElrath has faced just about every hardship imaginable when it comes to finding a job. With no work available, he found himself in an undesirable situation, which he says comes from the distribution of work and money.
“Here in Duluth I'm confronted with the same stereotypes and xenophobia as everyone else,” McElrath said. “You walk down the street and people look at you like you're some type of alien from a distant planet, but I look back at them with the same set of eyes.”
As I continue to dive deeper into the subject of homelessness I hope to bring to light the issues facing those in need by covering additional topics. This effort will not end soon, and I will continue to push for change.
Please join the conversation and share your stories, either comment below or send me (Daniel Badhwa) an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.