Mon 17 Jan 2022 09:53:47 AM PST
Note to reader: This post which is about how I first came to hear about Everyone Village was originally going to have a couple of paragraphs about attitude. The attitude of homeless people in general, towards themselves and each other, as well as the attitude of the general public towards the unhoused. Just a few paragraphs. Now, 4 pages later I am only halfway through the subject.
I am of the school that no matter what you have planned, if something inside you is forcing a subject out of your fingers and on to the screen, it must be for a reason, so the best thing is to follow it where it leads.
That’s why this post is called ‘Part 1’ Eventually I will get to the main subject, just don’t know how may parts it will take or how the two topics will connect. Yet.)
This post will be about how I first heard of Everyone Village and how I came into contact with Gabe, Heather, and Chelsea to talk about living there.
Before we do that though, we need to talk about attitude.
And before we talk about attitude we need to talk about the fact that I am already regretting my pen name. Nothing wrong with it, and it took me a long time to decide on it, only now that I have it a million ideas for pen names are popping into my head all the time. Every now and then a new idea for one will appear in my head and I will think that one is more suited to me or sounds cooler. I am actually having buyer’s remorse for a moniker.
The current one I can’t stop thinking about combines fierceness with an appreciation of finer things.
It is: Merino Wolverine.
Got that out of my system.
Back to attitude.
“First Contact” as we all know is a term mostly used to describe meeting aliens for the first time, and it may seem a little dramatic for meeting a housing provider, so let me explain.
And that is where we get to attitude. Attitudes of homeless people, and attitudes of non-homeless people towards homeless people, and attitudes of homeless people towards one another.
I guess before I jump in to this post I want to let you know how I see all this as it might explain why guys like me don’t seem to jump at opportunities like Everyone Village when they are presented. There are so many of us who seem to be in a state of suspended animation, year after year, never really doing anything to better our situation.
And it isn’t simply, necessarily, though it is sometimes, a case of a willful bad attitude and unwillingness to lift a finger in order to get back into society.
Often we view charities and government agencies that claim they will help us find a place with extreme skepticism.
And ultimately this post will describe how this particular homeless community overcame my skepticism and gave me some optimism, and how coming into contact with people like that may as well be an alien encounter because it is so unlikely.
Before I can do that I have to, at least it seems so at the moment, lay some groundwork by describing the background against which we live our precarious lives.
And that involves mental states even more than it involves physical living conditions, otherwise known as attitude, so let’s start with:
THE PUBLIC AND THE HOMELESS
There are some people, particularly in places like Eugene, who have a romanticized attitude towards the homeless, those poor little lambs, who just haven’t been given a chance; these people think that if everyone cared as much as they do and just reached out and helped out, that, given the chance, homeless folk would find their place and flourish.
Example: The other day I saw a woman I know from the streets. I would guess she is in her thirties or late twenties. She can be very sociable, dressing in clean clothes and passing unnoticed other than for the fact that she is pretty good looking. (This is always a red flag. Good looking women get more help than anyone, from men and women, and always have at least a couch to sleep on. If you meet an attractive woman on the streets, beware. She has had to work much harder than the rest of us to alienate everyone she meets and is probably either evil or crazier than crazy. It is probably similar for good looking men, but I don’t even notice them so I cannot speak about it.)
Anyway, this woman can go from passing the time of day to hissing and spitting and attacking like a Tasmanian Devil in an instant.
Don’t ask me how I know.
Once I figured out that the best policy was to avoid her at all costs she even found a way to start yelling at me when I was on the other side of the street avoiding eye contact. From across the divide she yelled: “What did you say about me?” and immediately began closing the distance demanding I repeat it. Anyone watching the exchange would think, “Good for her, standing up to a man like that. I’m here for you sweetie if he tries anything.”
So, the other day, she was in one of her destructive moods. It is like a switch flips in her eyes and a devil takes over and starts striding around looking for people or objects to abuse or physically attack. On this day she was strutting around the yard of someone whose business was based in a tidy house. She was tearing up plants, strewing garbage among the trees, and walking up the stairs to look in the house either to steal something or just make people nervous.
About this time the owners roll up and they are a man and woman who very gently ask what she is doing and if she is okay, the man filming her with his phone. This seems to excite her and she ignores them intensifying her activities.
As far as responding to someone trashing a business, they are pretty chill. They might have called the cops, but I don’t know.
Across the street, some young hipsterish person, getting out of the car in, of course, an organic market parking lot, watches them for a second and starts really screaming, making the situation much worse:
“Leave her alone. Leave the homeless woman alone. What is wrong with you people? She’s just scared blah blah “(tons of opinions no idea what is happening).
That’s the romanticizing attitude which is no help at all to anyone. Just automatically side with the homeless person, no matter what they doing, who they are hurting, and no one else matters. They don’t really do anything except let everyone else know how much they care.
And I got to watch the whole sad show from the bus stop. I wanted to tell the hipster to shut up and that they weren’t helping. If you, the reader have conflicted thoughts about homeless people that you want to talk about and some bozo hipster like this tries to shut you down or make you feel guilty, just ignore them, they are idiots. They are just trying to show the world that they alone *care.*
This is an extreme example. Many of the people who work in social services though seem to be cut from this cloth, though less in your face about it. They don’t necessarily have any real help to offer a homeless person, except maybe a 5 waiting list for a place to live. Usually they do have some sort of ‘case worker’ who agrees to meet with you periodically and look at you with a sympathetic expression. Very often they do exactly nothing except meet with you and as a result, many homeless people end up thinking it is all a scam, and that these people get paid for all these meetings whether anything results from it or not.
It is hard to argue with that logic, a logic that would explain, based on a particular attitude that homeless people see a lot, why very often we seem cynical and passive towards ‘opportunities.’
The second most common attitude people have towards the homeless comes from this group:
On the flip side, there are people who think that homeless people are drug addicts, criminals, or people who simply are too lazy or selfish to work, that is, people with bad attitudes.
I can give you a much shorter account of this. One day I was sitting in the bike yard of a homeless shelter and a well dressed man and his son walked right in like they owned the place, ignoring everyone there, and the dad was walking up and down the row of the parked bikes, dragging along his obviously embarrassed son, saying, “Do you see it here? What about over here?’
The situation wasn’t hard to guess. Kid gets bike stolen, dad figures it must have been stolen by one of the evil hobos in the place he drives by every day, and he’s been wanting to let them know how he feels about them for a long time, so, man of action that he is, he takes things into his own hands like Steven Seagal would and goes on a rescue mission to retrieve his kid’s bike from the belly of the beggar.
Never mind that most of those bikes were given to the residents by the institution, and never mind too that Eugene is thick with bike thieves, sophisticated folk who strip a bike down to parts send them all over the place before you even know your bike is gone. Forget all that. Just wander down to a shelter, your bike will surely be there.
So, these are the two basic attitudes of the public, in general, towards people like us, both having some truth, neither sufficient for dealing with homeless people or anything else. Most people we meet are milder versions of each of these extremes.
Those of us on the street aren’t necessarily dummies, and we do tend to size up what sort of person we are dealing with.
Even though the scapegoaters can be more of a pain in the ass to us, their frustration is understandable. A lot of homeless people feel the same way about their more extreme street dwelling cohorts. Most of the disapproval a homeless person feels is silent, thank God. You just feel judged or unwelcome and don’t have to worry about someone verbally going off on you. It seldom happens.
And even when someone talks down to you verbally it often isn’t even conscious, they just never see things from your point of view. They see you from other people’s point of view.
Quick example. One Winter morning I was sitting there in a park freezing with ice on everything. I could have been in a shelter at that moment if I wanted to. I was in the park because the other people living in the shelter were full of drama and bluster at the moment and being cold in the park was better.
A park worker came up and asked me if I was staying at the shelter and I said I was. He said, “I guess they don’t want you hanging out there all day, so you are here.” I told him what I just told you, that the shelter was open but I didn’t want to be there at the moment. It was like he didn’t even hear it. He just repeated what he had said, “Heh, yep, guess they don’t want you hanging around all day.”
Because I didn’t have the composure that I (mostly) do now, it was me who went off on him. I said, “I just told you that it was my choice to be here, so why the f*** aren’t you listening? What the hell is the point of talking to someone if you don’t listen to anything they are saying?”
Then he did that hand calming gesture kind of rolling his eyes as if to say, “you try to be nice to these people and they flip out for no reason” andof backed away. He was acting out a little pantomime that was saying that he was just a good guy and had no idea why the homeless person just had a fit.
Whatever. The point is he wasn’t even trying to be mean. It didn’t even occur to him to listen to me. He wasn’t in the park with me; he was over at the shelter seeing things from the point of view he made up for them, having empathy for the people who have to deal with people like me.
So there you have it, the general attitudes that the public has towards homeless people as I see it.
I am going to stop here now. I am now, after rereading this and thinking about it, seeing how it connects to the original idea for the post as well as homelessness in general.
Basically it is the setting against which homeless exist day after day. I am not at all saying that it explains the behavior of homeless people, as I believe that everyone has a measure of free will and has some responsibility for their actions no matter how tough their life has been. Still, the people you deal with every day do affect you, in this case they affect how willing you are to engage with the world you left behind at some point, what I once heard an older guy call his ‘old life’ as if it were a reality that was over and done with and unreachable for the moment.
Next post I will go over the attitudes of homeless people, hoping it won’ t take too long, and we can move on to the original topic of this post, which is how I heard about and came to know the people of Everyone Village. Following that will be an account of what is like to move in, and after that what it is like to live here in the early days.
At least that’s the plan.