I am starting this website because of an itch. A concern, a disturbance. I have a house, and I am warm and comfortable in my house. I have my things safely secured in my home. I can retreat here and find privacy, solitude, quiet — and my house protects my mental and emotional well-being, as well as my physical health.
But, there are others who dont’ have these things. I drive by them, for instance the one I often see sheltering behind a trap stretched from the end of a discarded mattress to a shopping cart in a bush by the freeway on-ramp. My feelings about the homeless, or their camps, are varied. I may be sad, I might be curious, I am sometimes fearful, I may feel repulsed, I can get angry. I can feel all these things, and I think many of us do. One of the main reasons for starting this website, is to make room for people to have all their feelings about what they see, and not feel pressured to feel only the “nice” or “politically correct” things like empathy or pity. In fact, I believe that a major reason for the seeming intractability of the homeless problem, is homeless advocates’ contempt for and dismissal of the many natural and very common negative responses that residents/neighbors have, both to some of the homeless themselves, as well as to the squalid encampments. I believe it’s possible to both feel compassion for the homeless individuals, as well as feel disturbed by the situations in which they often live. I want to explore this paradox.
On one day, there is a young woman — attractive, and articulate– sitting downtown on the sidewalk, with a dog and a sign. Another day, I see the bedraggled young man down the street, who appears to be on drugs, who is living in a small tent on the sidewalk, surrounded by trash. I have walked by that area and found human feces on the sidewalk nearby. There is a woman at the street intersection with a sign, and when I stop and hand her money, tears run down her face and she says “Bless You.” There is a man in my neighborhood to whom I once gave $5, and now, every time he sees me, he waves, and I slow down my car. I wince and feel regret that I ever gave him anything at all, as he approaches me with a new con story about how he only needs X amount of money in order to buy a truck so he can do recycling scavenging more easily, or so he can get a place to stay for the night.
I feel saddened and disturbed when I drive downtown, pass by a highway overpass and in the dirt below, see a middle aged man talking to himself, someone who is clearly out of his mind, wandering, ragged, near a large cardboard box draped with a tarp. I feel angry that whereas we once provided clean and safe places for the seriously mentally ill in the US, through institutionalization of these individuals which admittedly had its problems as well — now our policy is that leaving the seriously mentally ill to live on the sidewalks is giving them “freedom.” Recently, Karen, a homeless woman with schizophrenia in Portland died in a parking garage after being evicted for late rent and signs of decompensation. I feel angered that we are talking the lie that such “freedom” to wander the streets is better than “committing people to institutions” where people like Karen would be warm, dry and cared for.
I meet individual homeless individuals and find them creative, artistic, whimsical and funny, but am at the same time disturbed, appalled and sometimes angered by some huge homeless encampments in cities, where, neighbors say, and sometimes police confirm, there have been “chop shops” for stolen bicycles.
A news story states that police found a hoard of illegal drugs at another camp, and in yet another, two people were murdered.
Opening the local newspaper, I read of San Francisco’s effort to come up with solutions for homelessness. I read that the city has been trying to find solutions for this thorny issue for many years, and that more than one prominent political leader has concluded that “homelessness cannot be solved.”
As I read about homeless service agencies and what they do, I see that many caring people offer services, food, shelter, programs and sometimes housing to the homeless, and that many times they do help people, but often they do not. I read about huge amounts of money being spent, and in the end, after all that expense, seeing that not much has changed — there are few results. The number of homeless is about the same. Some cities do more, some cities do less for the homeless — but the approach seems to be very much city by city, without any overarching federal program or plan.
Many are adamant that the homeless should be given whatever help they need, or should be allowed to camp wherever they choose. Yet, such demands generally dont’ fly with neighborhoods, residents of which understandably perceive homeless camps as trashy places full of blight or crime, even as open-air insane asylums. As well, a large number of Americans who feel that US entitlement programs are too large, that we are giving out too many handouts to people who don’t deserve them or who refuse to take steps to help themselves.
So this website is a place to do more in-depth exploration, as well as discussion, of these quandaries and conundrums, and see what results. I want to really take a “big picture” view of the issue of homelessness, looking at it from all angles — thus, exploring it more in a journalistic manner, like an investigative reporter, rather than in the manner of a homeless advocate with a particular and fixed opinion. I want to view homelessness not only as it’s viewed from the outside, typically as a problem to be solved or as a group of needy to be donated to, but also from the inside –what can I discover about the “culture” or cultures of the homeless or non-housed people, the values and beliefs, if any, associated with it? Not all of the homeless view themselves as “victims” of their situation — some in fact have chosen it. A couple books have been written by those who renounced money — one about “The Man Who Quit Money”, Daniel Suelo , and another about “The Moneyless Man”, Mark Boyle .
In addition, I am curious about the symbolic and psycho-social meaning of homelessness — for if we are honest, and whether we are “open-hearted” people or not, I think most of us will admit that the issue of homelessness effects us as it creates a category of people who are “other” to us in a quite dramatic way. We might have survival fears ourselves, and worry that we too could become homeless. Or we could be triggered in some profound psychological way by the sight of someone living out in the open without any protection. In several ways, this issue is one that digs deep down into our collective psyche, and puts a thorn there.
Ideally I would like to find solutions for homelessness. Yet, I also have observed the intractability of the problem in the US, given government policy, bloated entitlement spending, and American resistance (particularly as seen in the new federal administration and among the electorate who put Trump in office) to yet more forms of welfare and government aid. So I want to put together many reflections from different angles and present this subject as one worthy of our thought and contempation, but often elusive of workable solutions.