This is the last weekend before Christmas. It’s the second to the last weekend before the New Year.
Yesterday I was at one of the shopping centers and there were folks by the boat load doing their last minute shopping. Imagine that the crowds are going to be worse today.
Despite the season, I’m just not feeling all that festive. So many things are happening all at once that I’m having a difficult time getting into the spirit of things. And although right now I consider myself "transitionally homeless" – meaning that I don’t have to try and get a bed at the homeless shelter and that I don’t have to sleep out of doors as an alternative – I am still "technically" homeless and that is something that has a way of overshadowing the season. At least for me it does.
Over this past week when I’ve spoken to other people I have tried to keep from letting my lack of festive spirit from intruding on those conversations. It isn’t easy. Hopefully I’ve succeeded to some measure because I don’t want anyone else to feel less festive on my account.
There are times during the day as I move from point A to point B and I’m by myself when the lack of "Christmas cheer" is more noticeable. It is at those moments when I find myself reflecting on what I have had to endure over these past two years as one of this community’s homeless population.
The fact of the matter is that I’m getting older. There were things I had hoped to achieve in my lifetime, some "station" in life I wanted to be at when I reached the age that I am at right now. And, perhaps that I’m not at that "station in life" is what is nagging at me.
To be sure, becoming homeless wasn’t something that happened in my life as a result of choice. Rather it is a result of something that I simply could not foresee. It isn’t as though I had a drug or alcohol addiction. It wasn’t because I was irresponsible. And it certainly wasn’t that I was too lazy to work. Yet, my life was altered significantly in one single moment; that’s all it took to begin a downward spiral that there was unstoppable.
Sure, there are homeless who are homeless as a direct result of their own actions. But the numbers of persons who are becoming homeless due to unforeseen, and often time unavoidable circumstances, is growing by leaps and bounds.
Just in the time that I’ve been homeless, I’ve come to meet folks who fit into both of those categories. And, I’ve been around enough of the homeless to know when the reasons they give for their homelessness is actual fact or fiction.
To be quite honest, it’s quite depressing to know that there are as many homeless in my own small community as there are. It’s even worse to know that the only solution that the elected city leaders have been able to come up with is to write, amend or adopt city ordinances that penalize the homeless for being homeless.
Of course, they try passing all of these "laws" as if they were meant to help things get better – such as when they passed the ordinance that prohibits sitting on public benches for more than an hour. They used the "idea" of anti-loitering in an attempt to move the homeless out of the downtown area. Yet, I’ve seen folks who weren’t homeless sitting in the same location for more than an hour and the police officers who patrol the downtown area on foot didn’t ask any of them to move along.
Then there is the "no camping" laws that the city loves to enforce. What happens first is that the Park Rangers come along and "tag" a persons camp with a "notice to vacate." The way this "complaint" form is worded is as bogus as can be. They try to make the homeless believe that there has been an actual complaint filed against them.
There are homeless who have been camped on private property (mostly empty lots or vacant fields) with the permission of the property owners who have had the compassion to allow the homeless to stay there because they have no where else to go. Yet, the Park Rangers have continually "tagged" this camps. Considering that some of the camps that the Park Rangers have tagged are on private property, it would seem logical to me that the only ones who are breaking any laws are the Park Rangers themselves when they trespass on this property’s just so they can tag the camps. Yet, it the homeless who wind up getting fined.
I keep wondering how long it will take before everyone finally gets it: homelessness is not going to go away. It will never reach zero. At least that’s what I believe. On the other hand, we can help to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless. But, that will never happen so long as we continue to foolishly believe that if we make it "legally" difficult for homeless people to exist in one community that they will simply move somewhere else. That doesn’t work. It never has. It never will.
We need to stop thinking in terms of trying to get the homeless to move along. We need to start thinking in terms of how to re-introduce the homeless back into the community as productive members. We need to find ways of helping them help themselves.
The irony is that until we begin to genuinely help the homeless help themselves, we are hurting not only the homeless, but ourselves as a community.