Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time on the phone talking with a friend who has been homeless now for about six or seven months. He just happens to be one of America’s 500,000+ homeless Veterans. He has been living on a mountain side, pretty much secluded from the rest of society for a portion of that time.
Recently, because he was in need of some medical attention, he came down from his mountain to go to one of the VA’s medical facilities – which meant that he had to "come down into the city." In the process of doing so, he has managed to find some temporary employment on a shipping dock of some kind. That’s a good thing. What isn’t such a good thing is that having been cut off from the rest of society has created within him this feeling of being a bit overwhelmed and "uncomfortable" in the city.
Being cut off from the "rest of civilization" often times sets up barriers that, once there, are difficult to get past.
The reality however, is that it doesn’t take living on a secluded mountain side somewhere to be cut off from the rest of the world. There are literally millions of homeless, living right within the borders of cities all around this nation that are "cut off from civilization." But, that isn’t necessarily by their own choosing. It is the majority of the main stream community who is to blame.
Day after day, we see the homeless within our own communities and for the most part we ignore them – deliberately or otherwise. We pretend that they aren’t there, or if we do acknowledge their presence, it is to complain about how much of a nuisance they are, or how something needs to be done to "get them out of our city." Some within the city go out of their way to throw insults or shout obscenities at the homeless.
We yell at them to get jobs. We chase them away from public places. We enforce petty "anti-loitering" ordinances. We create new ordinances that penalize them for performing activities that, unfortunately, are part of being homeless: like having to sleep behind buildings, in doorways, under bushes and so forth, even though there are not enough shelter beds to go around.
We demand that the homeless behave in a "socially correct and responsible" manner, although we’re the first ones to exclude ourselves from those same demands simply because we have "homes" of our own.
When we see a homeless person, we walk around with our collective noses pointed so far up in the air, it’s a wonder that we can see reality at all.
And then during the Christmas holiday, when we’re feeling so warm and gushy and so full of "good will toward all men," we take our "holiday personalities" out of the closet and pass a homeless person a few bucks, pat ourselves on the back and make ourselves believe that we’ve done something extraordinary and wonderful.
To me, what would truly be extraordinary and wonderful, would be if we carried the holiday feelings of good will toward one another around with us during the rest of the year.
Perhaps then we’d be able to recognize just how little we’re actually doing to help reduce the numbers of homeless within our nation. Perhaps then we’d be more willing to reach out a helping hand to those homeless who truly want to be helped. Perhaps then we’d call to account our nations politicians who are so busy fighting among themselves like 5 year olds in the school yard sandbox and demand that they fund viable and effective programs to help transition the homeless back into housing of their own.
But then again, perhaps I’m just fooling myself by expecting us, as a nation, to develop a mature enough attitude toward the homeless overnight. Look how long it took us to accept the idea of civil rights for everyone. In fact, we’re still not at the full level of acceptance on that one.
As for my friend who has spent so much time on the mountain – he jokingly referred to me as the "city mouse" and to himself as the "country mouse."
The irony is that if my friend, the "country mouse" were really a mouse – especially one on the endangered species list – he’d probably have more people clamoring for some "do-gooders" group or another to "rescue" him.
As it is, just because at this point in his life he happens to be homeless, the majority of what he gets to look forward to is being ostracized by the rest of society. No wonder he wants to head back to the mountain.
At least there, the wildlife accept him as being part of their lives.