Reading over the new May 2010 issue of The Contributor, it dawned on me that my thinking about homelessness has been all wrong. Perhaps everyone has it wrong.
The intended theme of this issue was "happy stories." The idea came about when considering the many comments by readers of the paper who indicated that reading it was often depressing. So, contributors were asked to write articles about times when they were happy, even when homeless. Life can't always be a drag, can it?
Taken as a whole, the articles deliver an unexpected message. Happiness is crucial, perhaps more crucial than anything else, to overcoming homelessness. (has me thinking I should break down and see that movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness") All of the homeless writers expressed the constant lack of happiness, and the near impossibility of achieving even a small portion of it.
All the talk I've heard to date has been about "hope." Big with churches, rescue missions, and homeless service providers is the message of hope, hopefulness, keep hope alive. Once, I was featured in an article about a show of some photographs I'd take while on the streets. The title of it was, "Homeless, But Not Hopeless."
But, what is "hope?" Hope is a static word. Hope is about waiting, and expecting something better to come along, later. Hope is expecting someone else to deliver. Hope goes no where, hope gets you no where.
Contrary to hope, happiness is an energy, it's an activity. Happiness propels. Homelessness is a life in static. To be free of homelessness a person has to change, has to move, has to get away.
For the longest time, I thought that contentment was a good place to be for a homeless person. But contentment is also static. It gets you nowhere. Contentment is resignation and acceptance of one's current situation. Although contentment can bring some peacefulness in the midst of turmoil, homelessness is not the place for it. Homelessness is death, and no one should be resigned to that.
Happiness is welcoming, happiness is caring not just for oneself but for everyone, happiness is sharing life.
And as I write the above line, I see how happiness is the key to community. It's connecting with others, being involved and involving others. You can't have community without it. And without community, happiness cannot take place.
There is a lot of talk these days about the need for community for homeless people. As I see it now, without community there's no place for homeless people to experience happiness, or to exercise their own.
Want to help a homeless person? Don't encourage them to be hopeful. Instead, share some happiness with them.
(P.S. Ben Griffith Rocks)