Denver lives on the streets for many years and bears witness to the powerful effect such an environment has on people. As he attests, homeless people in America are often swept aside or ignored in the common assumption that they have somehow brought their suffering on themselves and should thus be left to it. Contrary to the oft-held belief that people become homeless because they are lazy, drug addicts, or unintelligent, Denver’s own story suggests the opposite: most often, people become homeless due to life circumstances beyond their control—it is the hardship of life on the streets that makes some people turn hostile or frightening. In this vein, Same Kind of Different as Me argues that homeless people are as deserving of the same sympathy and compassion as any other person.
Born into poverty, Denver never has any practical opportunities to escape it for most of his life, which eventually leads to his becoming homeless. This suggests that for many, homelessness is not something they have invited or merited, but a condition that has been thrust upon them. Following the loss of his parents at a young age, Denver enters the slavery of sharecropping as a child. Unlike most young boys, Denver never has the chance to go to school or even learn any skills beyond picking cotton. Thus, he is never given the opportunity to be anything but desperately poor, regardless of how hard he works. When he escapes the sharecropping and arrives in Fort Worth, Denver’s inability to read, write, or calculate cripples his opportunities. Unable to generate a stable income to support himself, Denver lands on the streets. Denver’s homelessness is virtually unavoidable for him, and thus cannot be attributed to personal failure; he is simply the victim of poverty, exploitation, and misfortune. Denver’s inability to prevent his own homelessness is a testament to the plight of many homeless people: it was not something they asked for or deserved, but rather a condition that was thrust upon them.
Denver is good-natured as a child until the harsh realities of his life require him to develop a mean spirit to survive the plantation, prison, and the streets. This further suggests that Denver and others like him were not cast out of “decent” society because they were naturally vicious, but rather became that way as a consequence of the harrowing experience of homelessness. As a teenager, after Denver’s naturally kind spirit leads him to help a white lady fix a flat tire on the road, he is nearly murdered by three white racists. This event leaves him naturally wary of others and fearful that anyone he meets could threaten violence. Similarly, the deaths of most of his family in the early years of his life make him wary of letting anyone else matter to him again for fear of yet another loss. Together, these events make Denver cold and distant in his interactions with others. Denver’s ten years in Angola prison—one of the nation’s most brutal—turn him hard and mean. He describes the place as “hell, surrounded on three sides by a river,” and in his first few years there, at least forty inmates are murdered and hundreds are wounded. Denver notes that “In those days, a man in Angola without a knife was either gon’ wind up raped or dead,” and he implies he did his own share of fighting just to survive. Even after his release, living on the streets of Fort Worth, Denver maintains his violent demeanor as a way to protect himself, fighting and often threatening to kill people. Denver’s experiences teach him that by keeping others fearful of him, he can protect himself from harm. Although to Ron, Denver initially just seems mean and violent because he is a fundamentally angry person, Denver’s meanness is a defense mechanism established through years of hardship. As Denver puts it, “The streets’ll turn a man nasty.” This too indicates that homeless people are not naturally vile or vicious and deserving of their status, but rather are hardened by their years of struggle. Similar to violence, Denver argues that drug and alcohol addiction are as often a symptom of living on the streets as it is the cause. While many people wrongly assume that homeless people are undisciplined drug addicts who deserve their fate, Denver’s narrative argues that homeless people are often the victim of painful circumstances: “[drugs and alcohol] ain’t to have fun. It’s to have less misery.” This further suggests violence, drunkenness, and drug abuse are often tools for survival and a way to cope with the pain of reality.
Denver’s transformation from a good-natured child, to hardened criminal and vagrant, to a gentle, trustworthy figure who goes on to become a national speaker—even attending a presidential inauguration—is demonstrative of the potential in every human being, regardless of whether they are homeless or not. Given time and support, Denver manages to shed his hardened demeanor and reclaim the gentle spirit he had as a youth—exemplified by his desire to help a stranded woman change her flat tire on the road—indicating that violence and drunkenness are not who he is at his core, but negative qualities he has taken on to endure the struggle of life on the streets. Denver’s story thus argues that homeless people should be extended the same compassion and sympathy as any other person, rather than be ignored and left to their fate in the belief that they have brought it upon themselves. Understanding that homeless people are people just the same as anyone, the authors imply, is the critical first step in developing compassion and tackling the root causes of homelessness in America.
Homelessness Quotes in Same Kind of Different as Me
Things was a-changin. Uncle James took sick and died, and Aunt Etha moved away. Last time I seen her, she was cryin. I couldn’t figure out why God kept takin all the folks I loved the most.
Lookin back, I figure what them boys done caused me to get a little throwed off in life. And for sure I wadn’t gon’ be offerin to help no white ladies no more.
In those days, a man in Angola without a knife was either gon’ wind up raped or dead. For the first few years I was there, at least forty men got stabbed to death and another bunch, hundreds of em, got cut up bad. I did what I had to do to protect myself.
It seemed manipulative to me to make the hungry sit like good dogs for their supper. And it did not surprise me that even when Brother Bill split the air with one of his more rousing sermons, not a single soul ever burst through the chapel doors waving their hands and praising Jesus. At least not while we were there.
Another thought nagged at me, though. Could it possibly be something he saw in me—something he didn’t like? Maybe he felt like the target of a blow-dried white hunter searching for a trophy to show off to friends, one he bagged after a grueling four-month safari in the inner city. Meanwhile, if I caught him, what would I do with him?
“Mr. Ron, they’re livin better than I ever did when I was livin here. Now you know it was the truth when I told you that bein homeless in Fort Worth was a step up in life for me.”