It is one of the first things that makes students uncomfortable when moving to Berkeley — the widespread poverty. Encountering this social welfare problem tends to be strange because for the majority of students, this level of poverty is only seen on occasion and probably not seen in our hometowns. Yet this feeling of uneasiness doesn’t last long.
At times, I’m conflicted as to how to respond when someone asks me for money. Should I give them money? If I decide to, should I pull out my wallet or put change in my pockets ahead of time for easy access? If I decide not to, how do I say no? In my personal experience, these encounters are typically guilt-inducing as well, because while I have access to a variety of food options with a swipe of my Cal 1 Card at Crossroads, people asking for money along Telegraph Avenue and other Berkeley streets may be hungry or lacking a place to sleep at night. As I became acquainted with Berkeley, I was informed about details concerning the issue of poverty in this city and cameto realize that it was more complicated than I had made it out to be. In turn, I justified my growing passiveness toward the homeless until I became comfortable with it.
I figured that there were organizations in Berkeley aiding the cause, providing places where those in need could receive shelter and food. I convinced myself that other people have made this issue their focus — that I didn’t need to worry myself about it. I even told myself that some of the homeless chose this life for themselves. I just walk past them quickly and go about my day, because even if I responded to every request for money when asked, my dollar wouldn’t make a difference, I told myself.
As the months passed, I simply became comfortable with the fact that homeless people are part of Berkeley’s community. And, as I became more comfortable with it, I cared less and less.
Recently, I have realized that getting too comfortable is dangerous.
Once we grow comfortable and settle with the state of our community, it will be difficult to recognize the existing need when we have been living around it for so long. As a community, we become numb to problems because they have been normalized. This results in a lack of concern, slowing down advancements toward change. It is difficult to make progress toward serving and minimizing the homeless community, dealing with the crime rate, addressing the faults existing in primary and secondary education system in Berkeley or even mentioning the uncleanliness of city streets when we have grown used to all these issues.
It is my hope that I’m never too comfortable and that I realize that although I don’t necessarily have to advocate for every cause, there is always something little that I can do. When faced with huge social issues, Berkeley has been known throughout history to stand up, have a voice and act. However, it is in how we address the “little” problems that will confirm our strength as acommunity for our greater community.
Monica Mikhail contemplates the truth of the matter in her Thursday blog. Contact Monica Mikhail at [email protected].