I really debated about blogging about this, but I wouldn’t be me if I ignored how I felt. I consider myself somewhat of a politically and culturally aware person, but I also consider myself open-minded. Because of this, I feel like I can objectively say that The Homeless Awareness hunt is offensive.
For those who have never read the blog Skittles in The Pit, it’s a blog that considers itself a source of healing and coping for those with mental illnesses. It also seeks to restore the reputation of those dealing with them by raising awareness. One way they raise awareness is through hunts, and so far they’ve done hunts themed with PTSD, autism, suicide, and as of recent, homelessness (which isn’t a mental illness, but I suppose that’s besides the point.)
I find the hunt distasteful for a couple of reasons. For one, no money is actually raised to help the homeless, the hunt is entirely free. There are many shelters that could benefit from money raised from a hunt like this. I know in my home of San Francisco, many of the shelters and homeless programs were cut off from funding due to budget cuts. The effect is obvious for those that live here. Our most beautiful, and touristy parts are filled with transients, homeless persons, and drug users– it’s no fault of their own. As the economy collapsed, many people lost their jobs which only increased homelessness. So basically we had more homeless people, and less shelters and free rehabilitation centers. Just look at all the charities that could’ve benefited from this.
To add insult to injury, the hunt items are boxed in a cardboard box– the stereotyped home for the homeless. If Skittles in the Pit seeks to “end the stigma” of those with mental illnesses by supposedly contradicting the stereotypes, then why put your hunt item in a cardboard box? And on that note, why stereotype the homeless as mentally ill? While mental illness is often a cause of homelessness, only about 20-25% of homeless persons identify with a severe mental disorder (severe defined as being unable to perform basic household managing tasks including sustaining a job).
Additionally, the creator of the hunt asked designers to create an item based around being homeless (just another way to stereotype). The products designed are unsurprisingly typical — a beanie, a stained dress, a donation box of food and hygiene basics. Remember when Urban Outfitters was sued by the Navajo Nation? Well if you don’t, basically upon discovering America, the natives were raped, forced as slaves, and killed (both by hand and by disease) by colonists. Even after the United States was established, we forced them out of their homes during a death march called The Trail of Tears. Flash forward nearly 200 years later we use them as “inspiration” and profit off them– giving them nothing. (this is all off topic I know, but hopefully you see where I’m going)
So while not giving the homeless anything, the hunt uses them to be fashionably forward. And I don’t mean to say that this just happens on SL, but offline we give nothing to the homeless. Unemployment, welfare, disability– people complain about those, but the truth is, is that it’s still not enough for someone to live off of. AND you need an address to qualify for them– so if you’re homeless, it’s out of reach. Still, we enjoy the look of distressed, overworn jeans, or fingerless gloves. Ripped sweaters, saggy beanies, anything grungy. Unkempt hair, scruffy beards. (as satirized by the movie Zoolander)
The world knows that there are homeless people — awareness doesn’t need to be raised about this. But what people need to be raised awareness on is the causes– drugs, lack of healthcare, joblessness, and yes, mental illness. People need to understand that when we can give these people a place to live, help them get back on their feet and include them in our cities’s budget we can ultimately clean up our streets.
I know this seems like one giant attack on Skittle In The Pit, but it’s not meant to be malicious. They absolutely mean well, and their blog does include resources for anyone feeling alone or lost. I do believe they have created an unintentionally offensive hunt. A hunt can be a great way to raise awareness, I just believe they need to do some reevaluating on how they do it.
EDIT: Joshuan Banx has responded, and while I still don’t entirely agree with his methods, I think it’s important everyone get to hear his clearing of the air. Read it here.