Horse Of A Different Color

Posted: July 20, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

In my e-mail’s inbox yesterday I came across a message from a Mrs. E. Guillion.

She started out by telling me that my posts have given her some insight into homelessness in general. Although she didn’t mention how long she’s been reading the blog, I’m guessing she’s read more than just a handful of them.  

She asked what I felt communities could do to help their local area homeless. Needless to say, I have quite a few ideas about what could and should be done. While I don’t necessarily consider myself an expert, having experienced homelessness myself, I know what would have helped me get out of homelessness. As it was, I received zero help from homeless support services in transitioning off of the streets. My help came through direct intervention by "regular" folks. Without that help, it’s a strong probability I’d still be living in my old beat up tent.

What caught my attention about her question however was that she didn’t ask what homeless support service agencies could do to help the homeless. She asked what the community could do. And, to quote from the Wizard of Oz, "…that’s a horse of a different color."

Most folks think it’s the sole responsibility of the government and/or homeless support organizations to "deal" with the homeless. In part, they’re correct. However, that’s only one facet of the overall equation. Members of the community; the average everyday person, also have some part in the responsibility – as do the homeless themselves.

While homelessness is experienced on a personal level, it is a community issue which affects everyone – directly or indirectly. As a result, it takes a combined effort to find the types of solutions which can create the potential for the homeless to become housed members of the community once again. Yet, everyone seems to be playing "pass the responsibility to someone else."

The problem with this little game is that no one ever seems to consider that the homeless themselves might have an idea what they need in order to get out of homelessness. Everyone else wants to raise their hands and say, "Well, we should do this, or we should do that…" but, without actually having lived as a homeless person how can they really know what’s needed?

I’ve read numerous news articles about different cities and towns all across the nation that are holding forums on ending homelessness. The elected leaders show up. Representatives from the local homeless support service agencies show up. Members of the community show up. So called "experts" show up. And, everybody sticks their two cents in – everybody except the ones who are directly affected. The homeless are noticeably lacking from these forums. In some instances they’re not even welcome to be there.

Why? Because they’re homeless, that’s why.

For some reason, most folks aren’t able to grasp the reality that the homeless have the capacity to think rationally. It’s as though folks believe that when a person loses their home they’ve also lost their intelligence. And that is nothing more than a bunch of balderdash.

The truth is that I personally know quite a number of homeless who are far more intelligent than many a non-homeless person I’ve met.

Admittedly, there are those homeless who, if you were to ask them what they need to get out of homelessness, would spout a bunch of nonsense. But, then again, some of the ideas I’ve heard come from some housed members of the community don’t make a lot of sense either.

As for the so called "experts" that many local governments love to bring in to get ideas on how to "deal" with the homeless – well, let me put it this way: if they were so smart, then why are the numbers of homeless increasing throughout the nation? If their brand of expertise was so right on target, then why aren’t the numbers of homeless being reduced? Even if the numbers of homeless were simply staying level that would give me reason to believe that something effective was being done.

But the numbers of homeless are going up.

A group called the National League of Cities has reported that there has been an increase of 22 percent in homelessness, requests for emergency shelter, and emergency services.

But to answer one of Mrs. Guillion’s questions: what can communities could do to help their local area homeless –

The first and most important step would be to adjust our way of viewing the homeless. We must begin to recognize the homeless for what they are: people.

Once we get past that barrier, the rest will fall into place of its own accord. It will do so because we will have finally recognized that every person is entitled to be treated with human dignity. And, when we treat others with human dignity, we are more apt to offer a hand of compassion, kindness and welcome.

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Comments
  1. sidhere says:

    Michael,

    Currently I have a new blog on “Word Press” focused on right brain awareness…it is a subject I have been interested for a long time but in a variety of different directions.

    As I visit your blog I wondered how can our right brain approach this problem ?…we do live in a dominant left brain society that in some ways perpetuate homelessness…the left brain primary interests are to raise expectations and goals in a movement called growth…and the homeless are not only irrelevant but also a victim of left brain thinking and solutions.

    If I can use an analogy, AA has a 12 step treatment program which helps healing the alcoholic by a right brain solution…key to their program is a belief in a higher power and the willingness to surrender to its control…one of their favorite sayings is “Let go, let God”…and this is most successful when the alcoholic has hit rock bottom.

    I seriously doubt that a left brain society can solve the homeless problem without the homeless going through a healing process.

    Sid

  2. michael says:

    “I seriously doubt that a left brain society can solve the homeless problem without the homeless going through a healing process.”

    Sid,

    I personally, do not believe that it’s the homeless which need to go through a social “healing” process… on the contrary, it is the rest of society which must heal itself of it’s prejudices of the homeless. Until such a time as that occurs, the homeless will continue to be seen as a “social disease” by the majority of the mainstream community – who fail to recognize that, they themselves are the biggest obstacle to the reduction of the numbers of homeless in our nation.

    While this is my opinion, it is based on first hand personal experience.

    – m –

  3. sidhere says:

    Michael,

    I think if we look at your recovery from homelessness, we will find it involved a healing process within you.

    When I first communicated with you, we discussed the role of the wounded healer…and we were both interested in the healing process related to our own experiences…the role of the healer gives meaning to life… and I suspect your passionate involvement in creating your blog offers a sustaining meaning in your life.

    When finding meaning, we also develop the energy to pursue this path…the homeless appear to have lost meaning in their life and simply to give them the practical necessities will not bring about the necessary meaning to their life.

    Sid

  4. michael says:

    Sid,

    Quite on the contrary, I can assure you that my “recovery” (which is a misleading term) from homelessness had nothing to do with healing on my part – but rather because of the “healing” of certain members of the mainstream community. Again, I speak from empirical experience – not “clinical” definitions (which are quite often far from the actual reality). Moreover, this blog does not offer a “sustaining meaning” in my life… I may lead a small life but it is a valuable one which has meaning with or without the blog.

    Admittedly, while I find a certain amount of therapeutic value from authoring this blog, I would be more than capable of “walking away” from it completely without losing any sense of self and would not suffer any lack of “healing.” That I continue to write my posts daily is a personal choice – nothing more. I choose – as an act of my will – to be a voice for those whose voice has been ignored and disregarded by the majority of the mainstream community.

    One who seeks for a meaning to their life anywhere other than within themselves; within their own spirit – will ultimately find themselves without a meaning to their lives.

    – m –

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