On an average day in Fresno it is not uncommon to come by a handful of homeless people panhandling on the medians of the city’s busy streets and to disregard their plight. But for former Fresno State graduate Chris Ballard, experienced the unthinkable—he willingly became temporarily homeless so that he could fully experience and comprehend the problem.
For lack of a better word, there are plenty of “normal” homeless people, he said.
“Due to the recent economic downturns spurred by the sub-prime lending crisis, everyday, average Americans, who were one paycheck away from going homeless, found themselves living on the streets,” Ballard said.
Many homeless people may not have roofs over their heads, Ballard said, but it doesn’t necessarily rule out the prospects of them having money in their pockets. Some of the people living on the streets have discretionary funds, but not enough to pay rent or mortgage.
As for attempting to grasp the reality of life for those without homes, Ballard went the distance to experience the precise actuality of their lives—he begged on the streets, and in a bittersweet result, he felt what they have when no one shows concern.
“You feel inferior, you feel less human,” Ballard said. “There is an unsettling stigma that lingers among the homeless population.”
Ballard thinks much of society assumes people are homeless because they have made a lifetime of wrong decisions, and the fault, blame and responsibility rests solely on that person.
But sometimes certain individuals are just dealt a poor hand, he added. However, Ballard also understands that there are those people on the streets who are there because of self-inflicted chaos, such as drug addictions.
Director of Community Care at the Fresno Rescue Mission, Jim Classen, said he believes the underlying reason for some being homeless is just that: drug abuse and mental illness.
But Classen also takes into consideration that some people just naturally adapt to the form of life they’ve had to take on, and are unable to break away from the streets willingly.
“When someone has been on the streets for 20 years, it becomes more than a lifestyle, it becomes their culture,” Classen said. “I think it’s just as scary for them to move into an apartment as it would be for me to live on the streets.”
Classen said the one thing the homeless desire the most is a relationship with people other than those they associate with.
“If you ever help out by giving them cans or food, ask them their name and say hello when you can,” Classen said. “It allows them to see there’s more out there than just the life they’re living.”