Posted: August 17, 2007 in Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

The word NIMBY means… well, actually NIMBY is not a word. It is an acronym that stands for Not In My Back Yard. And, the majority of people have that outlook when it comes to homelessness.

For some odd reason, we don’t mind if there are homeless provided that they are not in our own little community. We don’t care where they go just as long as it’s NIMBY. Yet, because of the stereotypical view that the homeless are simply transients or vagabonds, the majority of people fail to recognize that 3 out of 4 of the homeless are actually "locals."  

Yesterday afternoon I was talking with one of this community’s resident homeless.

Born in San Luis Obispo county, he has lived here all of his life, except for about 10 years during which his father (who was career military) was stationed at an Army base in Texas.

Now in his late fifties, "Bruce" has physical disabilities that prevent him from being able to work. He also has been diagnosed with severe clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. Although he does receive a small pension from having worked, it is simply not enough for him to afford a place to live.

He has been denied a low-income Section 8 housing voucher a couple of times because he used to work for the State of California. Subsequently, he is forced to live life on the streets.

Passive by nature, Bruce has been victimized on numerous occasions by some of the more aggressive homeless who see him as "an easy mark." While, he does have other homeless friends who try to look out for him so as to avoid anyone from taking advantage of him, they simply aren’t able to keep a 24 hour a day watch over him.

As I spoke with him yesterday, I asked him what he thought it would take for him to find a way of getting off the streets. His response was that he gave up hope of ever having a place to live several years ago. He opened admitted that after becoming homeless, the shame and despair of a homeless existence had driven him to a nervous breakdown. After that he just resigned himself to a life of being one of the areas homeless population.

Bruce isn’t unintelligent. Neither is he lazy. He does have a problem with alcohol abuse – although the alcohol abuse started after he became homeless and was his way to deal with the horrors of being homeless.

He told me that prior to becoming homeless he had a reasonable amount of healthy self-esteem, but afterward, when he looked at the life he had had prior and the life he has now that he has almost no self-esteem. Moreover, he told me that most of the time, he has overwhelming feelings of despair. He also, admitted that there are times when he goes to sleep at night with the hopes of not waking up the next morning.

As for faith in the system or the community – he has almost none.

I wonder how many other homeless, living in our cities all across the nation, who feel just like Bruce?

And I wonder if our NIMBY attitude is a way for us to escape own our feelings of moral guilt and shame at the way we treat our nations homeless?

  1. Jose says:

    This is powerful material Michael.
    We need to work at somehow getting these messages to the sets of ears and hearts that have the power to make things happen.
    However, as you well know, we have to start with self and lead with example.
    Stay healthy my friend.

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