In Search of Understanding

It is hard to write about something you have never experienced. Sure, you can close your eyes and fantasize and guess what it would feel like – but reality isn’t a fantasy.

Stubbing your toe always hurts more, and for longer, than you imagine it will.

Sometimes I sleep out on the street. I work with homeless families and I lose my compassion. I get angry and feel manipulated. I am frustrated that people try to fool me or use the system. I read one too many times on Facebook about how the poor are choosing to be poor and homelessness and poverty only happen to people who deserve those circumstances. It is the “Bad things only happen to bad people” excuse we sometimes deploy to keep from dwelling on the nastiness that we allow other people to experience while we only fantasize about what it might be like.

I am from the San Gabriel Valley, so of course I have slept on the Tournament of Roses Parade Route as a rite of passage. Sleeping in a sleeping bag and sitting with happy, excited, drunk and munching friends is completely different than sleeping on the streets of Skid Row. On Colorado Boulevard the revelers are sure that they can greet a new day and go away – to warm cozy beds to catch up on the sleep they missed and to resume their lives. On the streets of Los Angeles ( or anywhere else, actually) there are other emotions at play.

  • Some people are resigned to it – they have as much dignity as they can muster and no hope of changing their situation. They are not “Fine” with that, not “okay” with that, and mostly are “Angry” that it is what it is … but it is what it is. It is their home, their situation and it isn’t changing soon.
  • Some people are hustling with gusto and deviance:. They are trying to make a buck – they star in Bum Wars, they sell shoes, they become self-appointed parking lot attendants, they sell themselves and they use the money for rent by the week motels and try to find ways to save enough money to move out. Unfortunately, everything they are doing to get off the streets creates patterns and habits that will return them to the sidewalks.
  • Some people are living as if they were housed still – they shower and wash clothes and do a job hunt. You find them in the public library and work source centers and knocking on the doors of service agencies. These folks are awful at being homeless – which often means they will be rehoused and remain so with greater success than their brethren.
  • Some people are dead with a heartbeat. They have no hope, feel no dignity and are counting breathes until they die.

I am not homeless and I could not live as a homeless person for long. Homelessness is a great fear of mine – but in order to combat it, I had to taste it.. If I expect and accept that other people will be without permanent, human appropriate shelter, I should be willing to sample that life.  I have – it sucked – and now I spent 40 hours or more a week trying to end poverty for individuals, families and in the United States.

So, here is my conundrum. I am a registered Republican in a society that jails people in overcrowded cells, profiles based on ethnicity and race, and tortures folk based on guesses and assumptions – all of these acts are rooted in exposed and faulty science – but I have not tried to understand them or change them. I don’t feel motivated to because I have not experienced them. ( I actively try not to be arrested, jailed, etc. – except for my twice daily jaywalking to get coffee from 7-Eleven).

Who deserves justice?
Who deserves justice?

Former Vice President Chaney and Rush Limbaugh seem to think water-boarding isn’t torture and is acceptable. Here is my offer: I volunteer to be water boarded if they

will do it alongside me (but let’s wear bathing suits because seeing naked old guy isn’t in my life plans for a few decades). In my search for understanding, this is what I am willing to do before I decide it is acceptable.

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