Boston Globe: Look, a homeless guy returned a wallet

The Boston Globe wanted a holiday human interest story and all it got was a terribly cynical story wrapped up in “the spirit of the season”.  For much of the morning the headline on was “Homeless veteran finds, returns wallet with $172“.  Click and you find, “Man in needs finds a wallet and moral compass”.  The Globe should be above wallowing in assumptions and stereotypes.

The headline asks us to believe that a homeless person returning a wallet is something extraordinary, that others wouldn’t have.  It doesn’t want us to check our assumptions about the homeless at the door – the article wouldn’t work that way.  The Globe needs it’s readers to bring every fear, concern, or negative thought about homeless people to the fore. Then it can use the article’s subject to poke a few holes in our beliefs, without encouraging us to think differently about homelessness.

The article rests on the faulty premise that homeless people are some sort of “other”,  something separate from us.  They don’t normally share our ethics or morals.  We get to know Brian Christopher, a Navy Veteran who moved back to Quincy to live with his parents, who couldn’t take him in.  We’re told that he could use the cash.  We watch him struggle with the decision to turn it in to the Police or not, as he calls friends and his case worker, all the time thinking about his three kids in Maryland.  We find out that he turned the wallet in and “All the money was there.”

This wouldn’t have been “newsworthy” a week ago.  A week ago Brian Christopher was not “officially” homeless, he had not yet checked into the Center for Homeless Veterans.  A week ago this would have been someone simply doing what we expect a five-year old to do – return a lost item to its rightful owner.  It happens everyday.  What made this worthy enough for the pages of the venerable Boston Globe?  That Brian is homeless.  It’s the same reason this was a story over the summer.  We’re supposed to be shocked that someone who is homeless could do something so normal as returning a wallet or not stealing a credit card.  That they wouldn’t take the money and run, panhandling their way down the street, becomes a reason to write news copy.

This story isn’t about a homeless man returning a wallet.  It’s not about our broken safety net or the jobs that aren’t coming back.  It’s about our assumptions, our beliefs about homelessness.   It’s about our surprise that this man didn’t fit into our stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness.  It says more about us than it does about him.

One Response to “Boston Globe: Look, a homeless guy returned a wallet”
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