Homeless people are living, by definition, outside the box. Their co-existence on the streets with those who are inside the box is fraught with confusion. Those of us who are not homeless tend to be uncomfortable with the homeless for many reasons. These reasons may include the following and many more:
• We don't understand them - why they are there, not somewhere else? What do they eat? Where do they sleep?
• We fear them - they might rob us.
• We fear ourselves - we could loose our jobs and become one of them.
• We may envy them - they don't have exhausting 8 hour jobs that barely pay the bills to support empty lives.
There are real issues that are fuel for contention between the homed and the homeless. Some of these issues are perceptual, some are concrete.
• The homeless detract from the attractiveness of a retail area, such as downtown.
• They huddle on the sidewalks, often in dirty clothing, obstructing our path.
• They beg for money offering nothing in return.
• They root through trash cans for food and redeemable cans and bottles making noise and leaving litter scattered about.
• A few commit crimes from shoplifting, to assault and robbery.
• Many are intoxicated on various substances.
There are many good reasons to find solutions to the problems of the homeless. There are also many bad solutions that treat the homeless as simply undesirable pests. There are good reasons to move from homelessness being a "problem" to where homeless folks are an asset to the whole community.
We need to begin to look at the homeless problem in a brand new way - in terms that are relevant to the homeless, their lifestyle, and their needs. We need to find solutions that are not focused on making them less like they are, and more like the homed. We need to find the means of accepting and welcoming the homeless as contributors, not scourges.
This is a hard idea to have. It goes against the grain. Most solutions have been to remove the homeless from the environment by chasing them away, or changing their status from homeless to homed. New solutions need a new paradigm - that is, they need to recognize that the homeless are here to stay. They are homeless and they are a part of the community. They are, to the dismay of many, a growing part of society. They are long past the point of wishing them away.
Many homeless are willing to live at a subsistence level. They make do with begging and/or scavenging for money or resources. It is certainly a hard life, and likely not a wanted life by most, but it is as real and important to the homeless person as the life of any homed person. They deserve the dignity that any human wants and needs. Let's work with that. Let's all start thinking outside the box and find new ways to support each other with honor and respect.
Instead of the city and its institutions sheltering and feeding the homeless for free, and trying to clean and train them for jobs that they will likely never have, let's create a fertile environment for them to be themselves and serve themselves in ways that contribute to the community. Here are a couple ideas:
• Create an alternative to local manufacturer's sending simple factory work overseas. Simple assembly work could be done with minimal training and the pay could be by the piece. This smacks of a sweat shop, but the focus would remain on providing a short term safe environment to earn a small amount of cash. Let's keep this work at home and let those who may be happy with a small income do it.
• Create a simple crafts training center. Volunteers can train homeless folks who are interested in how to make things they can sell. These items could be simple knitting, or simple jewelry, or even artistic pieces like wood carvings. Sales could be at centralized markets, or on blankets on the sidewalk. Many cities in the world have incredible markets selling goods made by hand. These are not detrimental to the cities at all and are even tremendous tourist attractions. We should encourage, not discourage, an active street craft scene.
• Create a street entertainment district. We have many very talented homeless people. Many can sing, play instruments, dance, and perform other creative amusements. They can teach each other and develop new ideas. A stage in the park could be the home to circus of talented acrobats, jugglers, comedians, etc, who could earn respect and a tip income from an appreciative audience.
Thank you for reading this essay. I look forward to comments. I would delight in this discussion leading toward a happy blending of the homed and the homeless communities.