O’Brien: The battle against dehumanizing the homeless

Sep 22, 2023, 9:28 AM | Updated: 9:43 am

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A homeless encampment in Burien (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Of the news topics we cover at KIRO Newsradio, homelessness is at the top, and I get why, I grew up here, too.

I’m not numb to the tents along the freeway, the debris tumbling down the grassy hills, the people, often crumpled bodies passed out in doorways, the drugs, the crime.

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I feel tension in my body when I see it, and I think how we talk about homelessness and the people it impacts matters as much as what we do about it.

My own newscasts, for example, when I turn on my big girl voice, and I say, ‘In the battle against homelessness,’ we’re not at war. I don’t like saying things like, ‘More homeless tents popping up like their weeds.’ One neighbor in a story we covered recently said a ‘Camp spawned crime like an alien invasion.’ Another person said, ‘They’ve spread like ants.’

I get a pit in my stomach when I begin to hear more ‘us versus them’ than humanity.

“The process of dehumanization is the process that we use to slowly, primarily using words and images nothing more, dehumanization is the process of slowly moving people out,” Researcher Brené Brown said.

Brown is an expert on shame and applied her data to dehumanizing.

“So slowly over time, we start using words and images of them that dehumanize them, that move them slowly and slowly and slowly into what we call moral exclusion,” Brown said. “They no longer are protected by what we believe is human basic rights.”

We do this because it’s easier than looking within. Who did I vote for? Am I holding that politician accountable? Am I doing the work? Do I volunteer at a shelter? A food bank? Have I even talked to someone who’s experienced homelessness and asked them, ‘How did it happen?’

When we resort to dehumanizing, it means we’ve lost our humanity, and that’s the battle we should be fighting.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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O’Brien: The battle against dehumanizing the homeless