Tuesday, May 01, 2007

here's to all the lonely people

In the course of the project I am working on I've had the opportunity to visit homeless projects in several different parts of the US. The thing that has struck me every single trip was the vastness of the crisis. So many people are homeless. Men, women, children. So many people.

And so many providers are doing their best to alleviate suffering, to bring people in from the streets, offer them hope and other tangibles. But in every city I've been in, it's the same.

There is never enough money. There is never enough political will. Communities struggle to welcome these projects in their neighborhoods. And there are never enough resources.

I always make a point of talking to the people receiving the services; I want to hear what works and what doesn't from their perspective. One man wanted to make sure I knew they were putting illegal vitamins (would that still mean they are vitamins?) in the food. Another thought this was the best of the ten or so shelters he's lived in so far. And most want to you know that they are doing their best and they are grateful for the help they receive. And you know what else? Kids look like kids whether they are homeless or not. It's amazing how that works.

The place I visited last week was tough. It was in a very difficult facility with very spartan amenities. Lots of rules. Jail cell conditions. And yet the people running it were terrific. They had passion, wisdom, expertise. And they were between a rock and a hard place with the community, law enforcement, and funding. So they did the best they could. But if I had to live there, I'd hate every minute of it. Every single one.

Maybe that's good. I've often had critics tell me folks shouldn't get too comfortable or they'll never want to leave. And I always wonder how to answer that question. Do I say you're right. We really should treat them like shit so they hurry up and leave. We're doing them a colossal favor anyways. Or do I say I'd hope to have a safe, clean place to stay with my child should I ever need it.

Because sometimes we all need a little help. And until this society gets it's head out of it's ass about the need for affordable housing, we'll keep creating unsustainable and undesirable projects to fill the housing gap. And we'll have to keep them underfunded. And sometimes we'll have to close down because we run out of money. And we'll strip away civil rights in order to keep our parks clean and our street corners empty. And we'll keep putting people in jail. Note to they: jails cost a hell of a lot more than affordable housing. I'm just saying.

Because that's what happens when you treat the symptom rather than the cause. It's nothing but a bunch of holes in a creaking dam. And the water's rising, swirling deeper around legs clothed in worn denim and wet socks.

The Original Perfect Post Awards – April 2007

And on an entirely different note, go read Redneck Mommy's post titled looking for a hand out. Red (must I abbreviate everyone's name?) writes poignantly about how the charity collides with the cause in an incredibly beautiful (and yes, painful) way. I can't begin to fathom what it means to lose a child. Red, you are one of the bravest women I know. You can check out all the perfect posts here and here.


flutter said...

I just can't....people really say that?

carrie said...

People need to wake up.

There is a big story in WA right now about tearing down a perfectly wonderful, affordable and actually nice apartment building that is home to a few hundred people to make way for a big box retailer. They're kicking people out of their affordable housing and riding the coat tails of the excuse that because of a 3rd runway at SeaTac airport, living there isn't an option. But shopping is?

I just don't get it. Sorry for ranting.

And you're right about the Redneck Mommy's bravery. It is so startling and real and wonderful.


KC said...

Jen, this is so beautifully written. I think we need someone like you in an extremely high position in the cabinet. (under a different administration of course). And your imagery of the swirling water is so interesting to me, as I have just used that same metaphor in a very different context(not out yet).

xo and lots of love

cce said...

Ron over at RWorld talks about this very issue in yesterday's post, all though in a broader sense. The gist of it is that though civic solutions for complex problems(like homelessness) are never perfect, they are better than no solutions at all.

Blog Antagonist said...

I don't know how you do it. I would be so angry all the time. That you're not is a huge testament to your strength and determination.

Going to read your PP nominee.

QT said...

It is funny, here in Madison the big disagreement is over "inclusionary zoning" where a neighborhood of more expensive homes subsidize the "affordable" homes. Others see a housing trust fund as the answer. Even when people want to help, it just seems like there is so much to argue about....

Off to read your nominee.

slouching mom said...

so right, as usual, jen.

and if someone ever suggested to me that shelters should be poorly maintained because otherwise the homeless might get too comfortable in them, i'd want to slap him. or her.

redneck mommy has a big, beautiful heart. there's just so much to like about that lady.

Beck said...

Well, that's awful. The attitude of people towards the very poor always makes me pissed off - these cruel remenants of Calvinism, this idea that the poor always deserve it.

Redneck Mommy said...

My heart starts to hurt when I think of what little contact I have had with shelters and the people that have had to use them.

Thank you for speaking for them and making us listen.

And thank you for thinking my drivel was worthy of a perfect post. I heart you.

kristen said...

"folks shouldn't get too comfortable or they'll never want to leave."

This sentence kills me. How is it possible to feel that way when the other option is living on the street?

And like you said, I'd hope I'd have a safe, clean place to stay with my child should I ever need it.

You always widen my perspective on life Jen, I'm glad I've found you.

Gwen said...

Chicago has been struggling with how to replace public housing, too. Everyone wants the projects down, but then no one wants the tenants to move into their neighborhoods .... it's a lovely conundrum (not).

theflyingmum said...

My brother ended up homeless in a town with no shelters whatsoever - because the Mayor of that town said "We don't have any homeless people here." And no funding for homeless assistance will be budgeted for a town with no problem right? Except that the mayor has his head so excrutiatingly far up his own ass that he does not see the lines at the food bank, and the people sleeping in the park!? Oh, I could go on, but I really don't want to hijack your blog...

NotSoSage said...

Strangely, I laughed when I read your post. The reason: It reminded me of a dream I had last night. I woke and thought, "I have to tell Jen about this." And I then promptly forgot it...until I read this.

The dream: I dreamed that I started an IMBY campaign to counter all the NIMBY campaigns that go on. It took off and I started a blog, so I could post "Yes, please DO start a safe injection site in my neighbourhood. Yes, please DO build more affordable housing in my backyard. Yes, please DO allow people to sleep in the park across the street in warm weather, if they need to."

So, can I call you my dream girl?

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks as always for the insight into these issues. I get caught up in my own battles and need to be reminded that there are a lot of other things that need fixing as well. How you manage to keep going is amazing. Thank you so much.

crazymumma said...

What amazes me about the work that you do Jen is that you face absolute despair and frustration every day. Yet.
Yet. You also see the incredible strength and beauty and hope in all the people living homeless and all of the people working toward making it better.
Finger in the holes it may be. But remember, small voices all add up to a mightier song.

And ya. That post by Redneck has resonated with me for a couple of days. It was not a charity I really thought much of, thinking it might be a rip. But I heed Redneck. And I trust her. Great shout out to her.

Lawyer Mama said...

Yes, you're right.

Like Blog Antagonist I wonder how on earth you keep from being angry all the time. When I hear comments like the one about homeless people getting too comfortable, I want to scream. How on earth do you respond in a civil manner?

Anonymous said...

" I've often had critics tell me folks shouldn't get too comfortable or they'll never want to leave. "

I imagine that must be a HUGE problem for you guys, people just wanting to stay in shelters, haul all their stuff around with them, no place to call home, no addresss, no personal space.

Everyone needs help at sometime in their life. We need to help each other out, but you walk the walk girl.

Deezee said...

I just don't know how we shift society's values to be more inclusive. There is gobs of building going on around me - condos in probably the million $ range - but the affordable housing was closed down.

I think it's a battle of ideas as much as a battle of money. After all, those conservative 'gentlemen' I encountered and wrote about last week thought I wanted to take their money and give it to lazy partiers. (One came from extreme poverty and worked his way up so he felt entitled to his views.)

Momish said...

I admire how you keep your optimism and determination throughout. I know I would have been beaten by now.

I tip my hat to you! You are one strong and truly empathetic person. I, for one, am glad you out there speaking loud enough and long enough! It makes a difference.

liv said...

God, it's hard to be awake, isn't it, Jen? You are SO very on. And I must say that jails are not the answer. Nor are shelters with unspeakable conditions.

We are so many of us lucky to tuck our kids in their own beds at night. And to think that I used to agonize over what terrible things might happen if they slept on a poly/cotton blend. I mean, really!?

Isn't so much of this that so many of us refuse to see? After the light's been turned on even once, the memory has to remain.

Laurie said...

You are so right, Jen. What a wonderfully written, powerful post. You SHOULD be in the next administration!

scribbit said...

It's interesting, the last few years here the Catholic church has taken a beaten over various molestation scandals (I think it's something not necessarily limited to our community) and though I'm not Catholic it makes me feel bad to see the effect it's had on the diocese here because they do so much good with the homeless and less fortunate here. They're running the major shelters and soup kitchens here in town and my husband has worked closely with their social services department and has a lot of admiration for the work they've done. It's been unfortunate that one dark spot has colored the whole organization for some people.

kim said...

Oh gosh Jen-heartbreaking.

I can't even talk about affordable housing without getting furious. Our school lost 70 children mid year. The city promised our school a year to prepare and transition the kids. This summer the city informed the school that due to a contract with a developer falling through they were closing the housing projects in our attendance zone in October and the end of Dec. No other Section 8 housing exists within our school's zone.

The residences were given a housing voucher, so at least they weren't out on the streets, right? Well, I'm guessing you know the answer to this, not necessarily. Finding Section 8 housing that matches the cost of your housing voucher is extremely difficult.

The children from these developments lost a school that had provided stability and a place that understood and cared for them and their families. My children lost friends. It was devastating to all of the families at the school.

I'm sorry to rant and ramble on and on.

By the way I was curious about your opinion of the following organizations:
The Center for Family Resources

Must Ministries

radical mama said...

" And we'll keep putting people in jail. Note to they: jails cost a hell of a lot more than affordable housing. I'm just saying."

Yes, thank you for saying this! Housing, education, food, all are cheaper than jail, more compassionate, and better for greater society. Yet, people argue against them? It baffles me.

alejna said...

I read this, and it left me wondering what I can do. And then I remembered you had some answers to that already. Thank you for continuing to remind us about this.