I can’t presume to understand where you stand on this important issue because I don’t really understand where my truth lies. I worked for forty years as an educator and understand the value of hard work, but can also see the toll this system can take on those who choose to not buy in, are thrown out of the system, or can’t benefit fully from the work ethic valued in the States.
There are so many things to consider when we look at the homeless issue and we tend to sweep this under the proverbial carpet instead of facing the problem head on. Let’s consider a few things to help sort out our truths.
Should we blame the homeless and label them lazy and feeding on the good intentions of the gullible? I frequently hear people say, “They could get a job and a home if they wanted to but it is easier to live on ‘the system’” This is what a large percent of the population in the States chooses to believe.
Should we blame the system that took away many jobs and made it impossible for those desiring to earn a living wage? We live in a global society and the lives of individuals do not have the meaning or value that they once held. Employers do not need to be loyal to their employees anymore. Again, the liberal in the States see this as the truth and hate the rich for being greedy and bleeding the less fortunate dry.
Is it the failure of our mental health system that has allowed large numbers of individuals to descend into mental illnesses without help and withdraw from society? I tend to see this as an important issue because many homeless are suffering from depression, if not more serious mental illnesses, but it is simply one consideration.
Should we hate the homeless because they challenge our WASP values? For those of you who don’t understand WASP, it stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant values. White Protestants are taught the Doing Model from the time we are born. It is a linear model written about by Dr. Susanna McMahon in her book, the Portable Therapist, hat tells us we must work toward achieving goals and gaining external rewards. From birth to death we are known by what we have attained, what we possess, what we have achieved, and how we compare to” the people next door”. Those who subscribe to this model believe that others who come from a different religion or belief system just don’t get it and should be feared because they will be the cause of the collapse of our society. This philosophy is truth to many.
Should we just allow the homeless to live under our bridges and in their cars in the back alleys where we don’t see them and simply forget they are there? This is where most of us stand … in blissful ignorance. But the problem is growing and needs to be faced.
I guess you could add a few ideas here as well, but we are assigning blame and I believe that none of these beliefs will provide us with a solution.
Today, I live in the mountains of North Carolina in the United States and we have a fairly large population of homeless. I watch TV and see the numbers of homeless around the world increasing as wars and other conflicts remove people from their homes. Most of us never see them and are rarely faced with the need to be concerned. But, their numbers are growing around the world and the epidemic of homelessness will shake the fabric of the world we know in the future unless we can deal with it.
I spent forty years as an educator and could see the devastation that lack of a stable environment had on the students I taught. When they didn’t get a good night’s sleep or a proper meal, it was impossible for them to concentrate on the tasks we asked them to perform in the classroom. These tasks had no value because their paradigm and life status did not allow them to understand why they should memorize useless information, read things that had no value in their world and calculate mathematics that never had a purpose for them. When tired, hungry, and facing useless tasks, they would rebel and eventually leave school. Thus we create a population of uneducated and worse yet for the WASP, a populace that doesn’t value the Doing Model. They drop out of school, then society, and many eventually become discontented and the other values we hold may be discarded as well: honesty, respect, etc.
As I consider homelessness, I think back over people I have known who fit that definition. One former student, let’s call her Sally, was a member of my GED class in Florida. She was studying to get her high school diploma at a college where I taught. Her skills were limited and she struggled with the course requirements, but she came to class regularly. I believe that she was truly attempting to get her diploma, but I also understand that she was in school to be out of the elements. i.e. the class was warm and dry.
We frequently talked after other students left, and she shared that she was homeless and had been for over ten years. Life choices, limited potential and mental instability brought her to me at the age of about 35. She confided in me that she slept in the bushes near the school. She knew which gas stations and restaurants were open late and had bathrooms she could use without being noticed. She was able to keep herself relatively clean and had no objectionable odors or behaviours. I questioned her as to why she wouldn’t use the shelters in the area instead of sleeping outdoors. She shared that she was safer outside than in a facility where she could be raped or bothered. She knew where she hid her things and no one could steal what little she had if they didn’t know where they were. She also had a very good understanding of where the soup kitchens were for hot meals and where she could go for free food. In her mind, things were in order and she accepted her life’s journey as a homeless person.
However, about six months after entering class, she shared that things had changed. She had begun to steal from the grocery store closest to the school. I told her that I was required to report anything that she shared concerning her stealing, and warned her to not share this with me and to try to never steal, but she was able to justify her behaviour to herself. She believed it was OK to steal because she had needs and others had plenty. Before I could report her, she disappeared for over a week and upon returning, told me she had been in jail; caught shoplifting. In the next months, she would disappear several more times again for stealing. In jail, she learned that the police were not as likely to pick her up in a city about 35 miles away and she moved on. I was able to confirm where she was, as she enrolled in another program a friend of mine taught in the city she learned about.
This student chose her lifestyle and how she accepted her life situation. She never accepted the Doing Model of life and probably never will. I have often wondered if she might have been helped if we didn’t just put the mentally unstable out on our streets to fend for themselves or if we offered more humane alternatives.
Before I met Sally I taught at a vocational school, also in Florida. One of my students shared being homeless because he lost his job when a plant closed. He was studying a vocation in hopes of making his life better down the road. When I knew James, he was living in his car and used the school’s facilities to keep up a presentable appearance. James was a good student and learned quickly. Only a few months into training, he was offered a job in his chosen vocation where he could make money and learn the trade hands -on. He moved on and I hope that his determination to have a better life paid off. We might consider him a success because he was back to the Doing Model and attempting to make it work.
Other students I taught were not homeless but lived off the system. They collected welfare and lived in free or reduced price homes. They collected grant money for going to school and knew how to work the system. Some truly were studying to learn a trade in order to join in the Doing Model and fit into our society. Others were “working the system” and lived off the government, better known as you and me. These individuals do not follow the Doing Model but belong to the Taking Model. They take all they can until the system catches up with them. Then, they make excuses for the failure of the system … never accepting personal responsibility.
Recently I have encountered several individuals who might be homeless if not for me. As I said, I have retired from teaching and now live in North Carolina. It was there I met a couple that seemed to be down on their luck and they shared their stories.
Irene’s husband had kidney failure and underwent dialysis for almost eight years. He was on the waiting list for a kidney but was failing. He was unable to work and they lost everything. Irene was persistent and was finally able to convince the powers that be to take her kidney. It would be donated in exchange for another kidney for her husband. As it turned out, testing showed she was a match and she gave him one of her kidneys. The kidney saved his life, but made him an invalid, as he was unable to return to work or do much of anything because of the anti-rejection drugs and their side effects.
Ten years down the road, Chuck was still an invalid and Irene was forced to retire from working as a nurse because of physical limitations. Between them, they collected about $3000.00 US dollars a month from disability and retirement.
I own a large Lodge in the mountains and have a husband suffering from several limitations. They agreed to rent an apartment in the lodge and help with the care for my husband as part of the rent.
As it turned out, they never paid any rent, helped somewhat, but when their car was repossessed I became nervous. Since I could see that they had money coming in and did not understand and where it went, I questioned Irene about our agreement and asked her to keep track of the work she did, so we would both see the benefits of our agreement. About one month later I helped them get another car, and shortly after, they got into their car and drove down the drive without a word. They took most of their belongings and it looks like they won’t be returning. I believe that the Doing Model failed them and resentment took the place of gratitude. I gave them a home, food on the table, and friendship, but I couldn’t give them what they seemed to want … respect. The Doing Model, which I live by, says that you need to earn respect. Who is to say which of us is correct?
I currently have a young man living with us at the Lodge. He followed the Doing Model and became a Master Electrician. He had a good job and the benefits offered by earning wages. However, ten years down the road, he suffered from employment fatigue. Many who believe in the Doing Model literally work themselves to death or to the death of a relationship. They put in so many hours earning money for the boss; they don’t have time to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
Bill understood that he needed to escape the rat race and walked away from everything. He found a worksite called WorkX that matches people looking for a barter system where they share their labour for room and board. That is where we found him and he has taken his place at the lodge helping with chores in exchange for room and board. He has recovered enough from burnout, to apply for a job in his field and will be going back to work soon. I can only hope that he doesn’t get caught up in the rat race and lose focus.
Maybe that is where I stand. The Doing Model of dedicating our life to work is not for everyone. The Taking Model of stealing from others doesn’t work. The Hobo Model where you are free to roam the world, sometimes without shelter or food, might be appropriate for some. The Native American Model of doing what must be done and enjoying life works for others.
How people became homeless, how they feel about it, and the consequences of it must be considered before we can find a solution. We are on the brink. The OMP hopes you will join us in finding a solution.
Let us know what you think……………
By Nancy PS Hopp
OMP Admin Note: Nancy PS Hopp is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues.
Nancy is a writer I encountered on the writing site WriteOn. I was impressed with her thoughtful and mature flash fiction stories, often based on her own experiences and background and asked her to join the One Million Project network, as a valued member.
One of those stories or a brand new one will appear in the guest writer section of an upcoming volume of the anthology BITE SIZE STORIES series.