Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shadows On The Wall

If I've learned anything from being homeless, and my struggles against it, is that most people, nearly all people, don't understand homelessness. Moreover, they don't WANT to understand homelessness.

Even if they explore homelessness, their own ideas, own prejudices and bigotry, filter out much of the reality that is homelessness. People just don't seem to want to know.  Perhaps it's all just too uncomfortable for them.

On a brighter note, I do think that compassion for homeless people is on the rise, and that is a good thing. But again, that compassion is being hampered by a certain willful ignorance. It's a bit disheartening to be in a kitchen where lunch is being prepared for the homeless, only to hear the cook and other volunteers speaking disparagingly about homeless people. (I have seen such things happen.)

When a homeless person is able to improve his life, so that he makes a concerted effort to leave homelessness, usually the first thing he does is fix his appearance - he showers and shaves and get a hair cut,  he finds clean clothes to wear that are in good repair - and then people begin deny him help because he doesn't "look homeless".  It is all very disconcerting.

For the vendors of the homeless newspaper in Nashville, it's a delicate balance. If they look too disheveled, people will not buy papers from them. On the other hand, if they look too well kept, so that they no longer look impoverished, people will not buy papers from them either. When a vendor makes enough money to buy himself some new clothes, it's best that he does not wear them while selling the paper, other wise it will adversely affect his business. Only when people (the general population) educate themselves to the realities of homelessness, and deal with the homeless forthrightly, will things ever really change for the homeless.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Define Homeless

Defining "homeless" or "homelessness" is not so easy to do, especially if you want to be accurate. In the Wikipedia entry for "Homelessness" there is this statement, "Defining "homelessness" is a complex and difficult thing to do." The Wikipedia page on homelessness has undergone some recent changes for which I am glad. I recommend giving it a read.
Mostly, the problem has to do with the laziness of the general citizen who throws around terms about homelessness interchangeably, as if they are only variations on the theme. (kinda like people accusing President Obama of being a Socialist and a Communist and a Nazi and a Muslim all at the same time) "Street People" are not necessarily homeless. Conversely, not all homeless people spend all their time living on the streets. If a person is couch surfing, they are not living on the street, but the home in which they reside is not theirs, and the arrangements made, so to sleep on someone's couch for a period of time are tentative at best.
Does living day to day at a rescue mission constitute a "home"? I have lived in the same place for over 4 years now. But I got this place by being in a program for the homeless. My case manager says I'm no longer homeless, but does this program make me not homeless? Or, is this just a homeless shelter with better amenities? When I lived in a halfway house for the homeless. It was a house owned and operated by a church that took in half a dozen homeless men. My residing there was conditional on my fulfilling certain requirements of the church. Did living there make me not homeless? Is there any difference between the house owned by the church, and the housing I have now - created by a government entity?
Paying rent doesn't seem to be an absolute definition of being homed, either. Most Salvation Army shelters charge the homeless for the right to spend the night there - about 10 dollars each night. Other shelters charge rent as well. Is having to work, do chores, etc., the same as paying rent?
Personally, I think the main consideration that should be made, as to whether a person is homeless or not, should be regarding societies reaction to a person's living situation. A person is not homeless when society accepts and allows for the situation in which people are living. If society gives its o.k., if the police do not harass the resident, if laws are not created so to discourage or inconvenience the person within their living arrangement, then I'd say the person was not homeless. This does not mean that a rescue mission or a shelter is a home. The administration and employees of such places work to get you out of those places as much as possible. So, shelters cannot be considered a home. Neither can living in a motor home, as there is no permanent place for a person to set their motor home. Most camping sites limit how long people can stay at the camps, usually only a couple months.
Only when society allows and accepts a person's living situation, free from any harassment, can that person be considered no longer homeless.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Interesting Video