I was driving home from work this week, listening to the radio, when I heard the host of a show ask a disturbing question.
Would you rather share a toothbrush with a homeless man for a day or go to prison for a week?
Most people were opting for prison.
First of all, let’s point out the fact that this is a sick and twisted “would you rather.” I prefer the game when you are choosing between two good things, like “Would you rather go sky diving or scuba diving?” or “Would you rather go on a date with Adam Levine or Zac Efron?” (For the record, my answer is Adam.)
But all kidding aside, this particular question made me want to turn the radio off and boycott the station (a particularly popular one for people my age, by the way). I sat fuming at a red light, listening to people laugh and say they would definitely, definitely choose prison. You never know what that homeless man has been up to. They were making a joke of a social problem that is growing and complex, one that is full of stereotypes now being encouraged with humor. Treating a homeless man as someone to be laughed at is one thing, but the very question propagated ignorance.
The last time I checked, “homeless” is not defined as “dirty” or “lacking a toothbrush.” Homeless is lacking a home. And there are plenty of people who lack homes who do not lack a desire for cleanliness, respect, and a toothbrush. Also, last time I checked, the situation of homelessness does not instantly turn a person into a diseased animal that does not brush their teeth.
By suggesting that sharing a toothbrush with a homeless man is the equivalent of (or worse than) spending a week in prison, that radio show host made a vast generalization about how horrific homelessness is and the problems associated with it. Homelessness can indeed be an unclean, horrific situation–but there are plenty of people who are homeless who do brush their teeth. All you need is water, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. People who have been evicted from their apartments have those things. People who sleep in shelters have those things. People who have lost their homes and who sleep in shelters are people.
I would much rather share a toothbrush with a stranger for one day than spend a week in a prison. Why? Because a homeless person does not have to be a dirty person who lacks hygienic values and access to water and soap. Some of them are, yes. But there public bathrooms and shelters and soup kitchens. And some homeless people are moms and kids and dads who used to have the two-garage house and the grill in the backyard. I’m willing to bet those parents know the importance of Crest Cavity Protection.
I would rather not share a toothbrush with any stranger, but I don’t think it matters whether he is homeless or not. There are plenty of people with the master bedroom and the half bath who aren’t very clean.
Don’t say there aren’t nights when you are too lazy to brush your teeth.