Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Maya Angelou said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”. She was very right on that one and while I'm very nearly certain she meant this in an emotional sense, right now I want to talk about the fact that people are struggling to fulfill their immediate physical need for a home. There are people living in tents right now-and I'm not talking about Haiti.

In Nashville, TN

Invisible City Winter — Nashville, TN — January 2010 from Russel Albert Daniels on Vimeo.

Under bridges and in tent cities in California

On the beaches in Hawaii

And in Seattle, which has established multiple permanently rotating homeless communities of roughly one hundred people.

All over this country, right now, there are people all around us living through the winter outside in tents, underneath tarps, or inside of cardboard/particle board structures. You probably don't notice them, but there are tent cities and other communities of homeless people in almost every major U.S. city, and with the free fall/suicide drop of the economy being what it is the number of people living like this in the United States is growing.

What is the reception to this epidemic of homelessness? Not in my backyard. The response has overwhelmingly been to turn homeless people away without regard for where they'll go. Several cities have gone so far as to make the act of homelessness (sleeping outside) an actual crime, for which they routinely "sweep" their cities detaining, harassing, and arresting the homeless. In Huntington Station, NY police destroyed a tent city which was serving as a home for more than 100 people just days ago, during what some journalists are calling "The Snowpocylpse".

A tongue-in-cheek Snowpocylpse for those who live inside is a death sentence for those who live outdoors.

And yet most people don't want to have to look at the homeless long enough to deal with them. You have people complaining about the addictions and crimes of homeless people because that's what they choose to see. What they don't see is a man driven into such a deep self loathing by his perpetual homelessness that he drowns it in a drink. Most people enjoy a few drinks after a rough day at work; the level of stress that goes into that man's very ability to exist is unfathomable to to most. People don't see a woman who escaped into a meth high because she was forced into prostitution to feed herself-and yet, what would you have to do to be able to live with yourself if you had to sleep with people for food or shelter? Society, despite the evidence, still doesn't see that stealing is an eventual and unavoidable bi-product of profound poverty.

They see smelly, addicted, thieving homeless people who should just try a little harder....somewhere else where "normal people" don't have to see them.

I have never been addicted and I have never been thieving and, thank God, I was never forced into any situations with dire consequences but I have been homeless (and smelly) so I speak from personal experience here. Most people who are homeless are normal people. They are veterans and school teachers and many of them are just kids like I was. In today's economy, it could just as easily be you in their place. All these normal people want is a home-a safe place where they can be free of crushing stigma and live unquestioned.

I can't provide that for them. You might not be able to either. But we can, as a society, provide them the safety and freedom that comes with a generous and compassionate heart. We can take the judgment out of the equation, treat homeless people with respect and human decency, and we can demand that our government does the same. We can practice small acts of random kindness that will mean the world to people less fortunate than us-bring an extra sandwich for the "bum" in front of your office building. Offer to share a cab. Sit with them and let them talk to you-homelessness isn't catching.

Provide an emotionally safe and judgment free place in society for those who have no physical shelter and we will be one step closer to the dreams of idealists like Maya Angelou, and truly closer to the mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Yet another Mama Kat inspired post...join her for Writer's Workshop this week!


K said...

It is kind of amazing that in a country with so much, we let some of our citizen live with so little.

We donate to a shelter in DC that helps homeless folks find permenant homes. I know how lucky I am and I don't want to take it for granted.

Jamie said...

Thank you for this post - it really makes me think!!!

Mrs.Rotty said...

I totally undersand what you're saying. and i'm with you. i used to work and commute through our down town section. its hard to see that every day. I'm not in a place where i can help financially. but i do pray for them.

ps you've been nominated for an award.

-love rotty

Bossy Betty said...

So much to think about here. You are right. Instead of getting overwhelmed we should look for small, but important, ways to help.

pegbur7 said...

WOW, I am speechless. My daughter lives in Nashville and we drive down 65 to get to her house and had NO idea of that going on there and she probably doesn't either. I am going to direct her to your post. THANK YOU for opening my eyes.