Don't judge those who are homeless; you don't know their story

William Douglas Aulph
I have only gone camping once — for one week a couple of years ago. But, I have to say, my favorite kind of camping is, well, in a hotel.

When camping, I did sleep outside. But there were also stalls with showers and plug outlets on our camp site so we could dry our hair. So, we did not get the full wildlife experience. Although I am definitely not complaining.

For William Douglas Aulph, he lived outside every day, sleeping on a bench outside of an abandoned Kmart, for 15 years. And this man who was homeless slept outside my choice.

I could never imagine sleeping outside by choice. But this man was actually happy doing this. And it gave him the chance to meet several different people who would stop by to give him coffee or a meal from a nearby fast food restaurant.

Early this month, Aulph died from hypothermia, according to the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office. And members of the community decorated the bench where he used to sleep in his memory.

I had the chance to talk to his sister Maria this week. And she taught me an important lesson.

“Some people are afraid of homeless people. But most of them aren’t violent. Most of them do have mental illness, an alcohol addiction or both. Living outdoors allows them not to have to deal with people on a daily basis if they don’t want to,” she said.

Many times, we judge those who are homeless. When they ask for money, we walk by with our heads down, pretending not to hear them. There are many stereotypes people hold against those who are homeless — most which aren't true — like that all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics who did this to themselves, or that they are all criminals.

But who are we to judge? We don't know their circumstances.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. For Aulph, he both suffered from a mental illness and from a physical illness — he lost his hearing as a baby. Living outside was a way he felt he could take care of himself. 

I know that I did hold some stereotypes against those who are homeless. I am ashamed to say sometimes I did think to myself that they did this to themselves — even though I didn't know them at all. I can promise you, these are stereotypes I will never again hold against someone after hearing about William Douglas Aulph, who, by living outside, taught the community not to judge others because they are different than they are. 

And I can assure you, next time I see someone who is homeless on the street, I will be stopping at a nearby McDonald's and getting a double cheese burger and a pop for him or her.

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