Wednesday, March 14, 2007

the circle game

ECR asked: what CAN we do that will have a more long lasting or permanent effect? What do you, as someone who works trying to eradicate homelessness, wish that others in your community would do to help realize that goal? She's asked me questions before, and I tend to obey. In fact, the last time I got myself another wife out of the deal. And from that union the Just Posts were born.

I am still struggling with an answer to her current question. For a lot of reasons including I have no idea what the answer is. But thankfully, she also asked me what I wished for. Wishing feels easier.

Truly, if I could wish for anything, I would wish that everyone who wanted a home had one. That one in five children did not live in poverty in the US. I wish that local governments truly accepted the responsibilities given to them. To govern their community with all members in mind. And then I wish those cats leaned on the state, who in turn leaned on the feds. That from the bottom up we are building viable communities.

If wishes were fishes I'd dive in and never swim back.

But it's about money, isn't it. There's not a lot of money in homelessness. There is not a lot of capital gains to be had. Profit margins will sour. Redistributing wealth in a way that makes it more equitable for all doesn't seem like a lot of fun for the guys at the top.

So what can we do? It goes back to the bottom. If your community wants to build more ELI (extremely low income) housing, support it. Push for ELI over VLI or EL. The rents for the other two types doesn't come near affordability for the truly impoverished. Ask your city housing departments what plans they have for developing or expanding affordable housing. Attend city council meetings and ask them to do the right thing. Some mayors already have the right idea. Denver's mayor rocks it. He's an example for the rest of the country and his model is replicable and it's working. Other cities can adopt it. Some already are.

Support local charities. Ones that advocate for homeless rights or are building affordable housing. Take your kids and volunteer; allow them to come to know people who have no place to sleep and watch how it touches them. I promise it will. I already see it in M, the nights she's come to a shelter with me, she gets it, even in her two year old brain, she gets it. And it's nice for others to sometimes have kids around. Kids that aren't pulled away or gripped tighter as they pass by. Kids that can smile and laugh with them. Never do I take M to a shelter without folks offering her a small gift, a cookie, a picture from a magazine. It's consistently humbling; the generosity and kindness I've had the honor of witnessing.

I often try to imagine what it would feel like to consistently present as a homeless person. While we are all judged on our physical appearances to one degree or another, I can't quite fathom having everyone's first view of me as dirty, scary, avoidable, lazy, crazy, sad. I can't help but think it would only take me a few days before I saw myself that way too. And how that might change the way I interact in the world, and the cycle continues.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Stand up for the rights of others in front of others. Show that it can be done with consensus and not animosity. Visualize a community that cares for it's inhabitants. It may not seem like a lot, but all of that goodwill adds up. Peace starts with one. Inside of me, inside of you, and it multiples and spreads.

It isn't hopeless and it doesn't have to be this way. Change starts with us, and it starts with our children.

ECR, this may sound like a lot of platitudes. But I think taking on an entire government is a lot to ask of most of us. So I wanted to offer something more tangible, whether politically or soulfully, that our community can do to get involved.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.


Oh, The Joys said...

Be the change you wish to see in the world, be the leader you're looking for, waiting for...

My chorus too.

slouching mom said...

Spot on, as always. Thanks for this.

May I add one? I'd like to suggest that we try not to overuse the resources available to us simply because we can. Just because we have the power to buy whatever we want, whenever, doesn't mean we need to abuse that power. Why buy a house that's 3500sf? Why not buy a more reasonably sized and priced house, and use the excess money to contribute to a charity?

NotSoSage said...

As always, when you speak, I listen. I love what you've been sharing here, and I'm glad that you've taken the time to tackle it, even if you feel like you don't have the answers.

I have been mistaken for being homeless before. I've had bad experiences, but I've also had people offer to buy me a meal when I walked out of a restaurant after glancing up at the menu and walking out again. I've then had those same people apologise to me when I've insisted that I am able to pay for myself. I want to make sure that people don't feel embarrassed or aren't hesitant the next time they think of doing the same thing for someone else. I'm not offended by someone assuming I'm homeless.

There are so many levels at which that work can be done, too. Fighting for affordable housing can make room in low income housing which can make room for the fight for extremely low income housing. But people need to be fighting on all those fronts so that no one level is left with no advocates.

Thailand Gal said...

Your analysis is perfect. And I don't say that lightly. It is perfect in the regard that it does, after all, always come back to the choices we make.

Thanks for taking the time to come up with solid suggestions along with the more philosophical issues of how we perceive things.

I am a nearly lifelong democratic socialist so all of this makes perfect sense to me and it's difficult to understand why it has taken so long for others to "get it". Then I have to keep in mind how well-oiled the propaganda machine is in this country and how the socialization process itself is what keeps this from actualizing.

Today is going to be a "comment only" day for me.. so I'll be checking back to read what others have to say. :)



Kyla said...

You are wise and wonderful, jen. You speak on these issues with eloquence and heart and it is incredibly moving.

Lucia said...

Amen to that!

It pains me that in the end, so many things come down to money.

Anonymous said...

This is actually happening here in my town - there is a town meeting TONIGHT about a new ELI housing project. I read about it in the paper and then got a flyer from my daughter's school. It's really exciting because our town is really a small city where a lot of homeless congregate because beyond here it's pretty rural. I'm so glad I'll have your informed opinions on my side tonight.

jen said...

I really hope you can fill me in on how it goes, what the community reaction is, etc. Please??

Momish said...

jen, you are not only such a wonderfully caring and empathetic human being, but also a wise one at that! (We already knew that, but definitely worth repeating after reading this post)

Mrs. Chicky said...

Changing the world one person at a time. First I need to work on myself, the look out. The world won't know what hit it.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Move over Obama!

Jen, you have the passion to inspire millions. Keep at it, my friend.

QT said...

Right on, as always. This is a topic of a much debate here in Madison. And it is sad that it all comes back to money - some things should just be exempt from having to turn a profit.

kristen said...

I always come from here more informed. I appreciate your ability to bring it to a level that anyone can feel comfortable with helping, it's so simple and yet so complicated isn't it?

flutter said...

Thank you for walking the walk and not just preaching about what others should do.
You are phenomenal.

KC said...

I love this. I really do.

Talk about Just Posts.

An inspiration in every word.

urban-urchin said...

This is great Jen. As usual.

wordgirl said...

Oh, the Joys had a wonderful post about an evening in a restaurant and her husband did such a lovely thing. It seemed like a good place to start.

Julie Pippert said...

I think this si great. It should be out THERE. Your blog gets lots of readers (I assume).

But the whole country, maybe continent, needs to read this.

ECR said...

Doesn't sound like a lot of platitudes to me. They sound like workable steps with a lot of heart behind them. Thanks for the direction.

Emily said...

Amen. Well said. Would you like to throw your hat in the ring for president? I'd vote for you :)

carrie said...

"If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. . .".

I can't believe I am quoting Michael Jackson (I swear I'm not crazy), but this song popped into my head reading your post and it just seems right. I have no idea when I last heard it either . . . but it all starts with the individual, doing little things, being an example, being a voice, advocating, changing, teaching and learning.

I believe it will make a difference.


Rachel Briggs said...

what a great post. As usual!