By Mike Lee
There is no significant difference between being in jail and being in a homeless shelter. While you can walk away from a shelter, the consequences can be considered far worse than being locked up. Just the fact that there are over twenty laws specifically targeting homeless people means at some point I will be punished for being an urban camper.
I find it hilarious the different attitudes of shelter staff. Some joke and smile, others greet you with a corrections attitude hollering and fussing at some silly thing or another. There are exceptions of course. First person that comes to mind is Service Coordinator Nakiea “Kiki” Anderson. Her professionalism and commitment to fair treatment of us—the great unwashed—deserve a big thumbs up. Thanks Kiki; we need more of you.
What puts me on edge is the constant use of the term “client.” I’m not a customer or buyer of any service you offer. Neither am I dependent on the services you provide or under your patronage. For you are not freely providing me with anything. In your mind, I’m a commodity like a bar of soap to be bought and sold. If that were not true, you would refer to me as your guest. Would you really tell a guest when to go to bed, what to eat, subject them to a whole matrix of petty rules which I dare not comment on for fear of retaliation?
If homelessness were not an industry, you wouldn’t use the term case management. I’m not a case and I certainly don’t need to be managed. What I do need is a facilitator. An ally to help me recover from the circumstances I’m trapped in.
Your assumed right to manage me allows you to design classes for my benefit. Your generous caring nature allows me to participate in a yoga class. Yeah, buddy: I may be homeless but I’ve mastered the downward facing dog pose. I’ll bet you if a put that on a job application, why, shucks: I’ll surely get hired. Oh, wow! A meditation class! “Om Mani Padme Hum; I won’t be poor any more.” “Aum; a bag full of money falls out of the sky in my lap.” Hmm… Doesn’t seem to work ‘cause I’m still standing in a soup line. Must not be doing it right. Once I find my center all my problems will magically disappear.
I guess it would make too much sense to have a financial management workshop. Provide me with tools and insight on ways not to squander my money and my situation might change. Oh wait: Here’s a thought! How about a job search workshop. A time where I can learn to write my résumé. Of course I’m employable. Who else do you know that can do the bridge pose, or spend countless hours searching for his inner peace?
The flip side of the coin is: If you provide real solutions, you empower people. Now we can’t have that can we? For in doing so, we turn commodities into real people who have the means and knowledge to solve real problems. Oh my gawd! Instead of thousands of unfortunates shuffling from line to line, now there is a whole army of uppity homeless people. Why, they might get bold enough to link arms and collectively shout, “Homeless Not Helpless! A Hand Up Not A Hand Out!” Marching in lockstep with true allies, they might affect real change like the Unemployed Workers Movement of the 1930s.
Stuck on the streets at night? At Polk and Bush there are several picnic tables left out overnight. A perfect place to spend the night in somewhat comfort. No more MSC and all that drama or danger.
Always remember that no matter what your circumstance you find yourself in you are not alone. For many of us face the same exact challenges. Watch out for each other, link arms and lets collectively change our situation.