Mon 31 Jan 2022 08:01:09 AM PST
If I am going to sum up the last two parts of this post I would describe them as a plea for understanding a mindset that on the surface seems pretty indefensible.
You see the same guy for years, walking the streets, doing nothing, and you can’t help but think, why doesn’t he do something?
And my explanation has been that he is experiencing an at least somewhat understandable state of defeatism.
The official term would be ‘learned helplessness,’ though this term sounds superficial and soulless itself. You don’t learn helplessness in the same way you learn Spanish. It isn’t the same kind of learning at all because it is forced on you; it is more an ability to recognize futility.
If there is a door painted on a wall, and you keep bashing your shoulder against it, that is stupid, right? If someone tells you the door isn’t real, just a painting of a door with a knob attached, you don’t say, “Well, I have been bashing against it for twenty years, I ain’t stopping now.”
Rather than learned helplessness, we are talking about realized pointlessness. And once you go down that road, you won’t notice genuine opportunity or possibility when it arises because it is only a tiny signal in a massive lightning bolt of false hope.
Speaking of hope, I hope these last two posts weren’t too hard on your emotions to read. They weren’t that much fun to write, I will tell you that. What started off as a puzzling tangent turned into a welling up of forgotten memories and emotions.
Part of surviving on the streets is putting all your true feelings and memories in a box and just carrying on: Picking up cans, cigarette butts, waiting for libraries to open, trying not to fall asleep in public, hoping your jacket doesn’t leak or your feet don’t get wet.
If you kept all your memories in mind at all times you wouldn’t be able to do what you need to do to survive THAT day.
And writing the past two posts brought all that, all the memories and the shame and the tedium and the hopelessness, right back to me into the present.
I don’t know if it was a good thing or not. I needed a day and a half nap. Revisiting the past prematurely doesn’t lead to growth or healing. It just makes you weaker.
I did have a 24 hour nap though, and that ain’t bad.
So, there I was, a few months ago, existing in my natural state of suspended animation, in my state of somewhat-understandable-defeatism, and I happened to read a newspaper article about about a local minister who did some of his ministering with the homeless.
I’ve been homeless a long time though, and a newspaper reader, and stories like this slide by all the time. Some new program or cluster of huts, or whatever, and they make very little impression.
But this one was different. And what would be a difference that would make an inattentive, going-through-the-motions-of-life, aging, balding, chubby, homeless fellow peek up out of his monotonous thoughts and see something hopeful?
I am writing out of memory. Was it a Register Guard article, or Eugene Weekly? Don’t remember. I just remember that there was a sense of excitement in the article, there was a feeling that something different was happening.
The article was of course about one of the current honchos, though he wouldn’ like being called that, of Everyone Village, a homeless community where I now quite contentedly reside. He goes by the name Pastor Gabe, and this article related how, noticing the homeless population near his church, Gabe started out by allowing people to sleep on the porch outside at his church.
So far, so normal.
What made this article different, was the fact that Gabe’s approach to dealing with his neighbors, many of them businesses, was not to ignore them or put on a holier than thou expression on his face.
An expression that I’ve seen before, by the way, the smugness of the professional helper.
Once I was watching an interview on TV of a woman who was feeding the homeless during the day, and she was asked how she felt about the fact that the people she was feeding were hanging around after the meal, throwing garbage everywhere, blocking sidewalks and doorways of businesses, sometimes intimidating business owners and customers.
If you expected, as I did, that she was going to say something about working out a solution so everyone respected everyone else, you would be, as I was, wrong wrong wrong.
She got an extremely pleased look on her face and mouthed some platitudes about how she cared so so much, essentially ignoring the reporter’s question, and when someone ignores something, it is pretty obvious they don’t really care about it.
It is almost as if, no, it seemed definitely like she was getting some pleasure out of the antisocial activities of her clients, as if her own enjoyment at the difficulties of local businesses was hidden by a kind of altruistic cover story about helping.
A social worker’s version of Munchhausen By Proxy, a psychiatric condition that, if you have never heard of it, count yourself lucky. You really don’t want to know the twisted corners of the human mind.
We hear all the time how businesses don’t care about people in distress on their own streets. How often do we hear about supposed helpers who get joy at the misfortunates of the their more fortunate neighbors?
A friend of mine has a theory that the people who are drawn to the helping professions are often people who probably couldn’t make it in the competitive business world, so they turn to the world of social services and non profits where they can have power over their clients and get back at the business world that had no use for them.
While I do not doubt that there are many people in the world of charity who feel called to be there, and operate out of a simple concern for their fellow men, I do see some truth in his theory. We homeless have all come across people who claim to be helping us who seem much more interested in controlling us while letting the wider world know how compassionate they are.
This should come as no surprise, for wasn’t it Jeremiah in the Old Testament who said:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
It makes sense in common sense terms too anyway. Are we not born into a country where we are consumers of everything in sight, and judged and judging ourselves by our ability to create material wealth and comfort? Is this not the background against which everyone, even the caring souls, are born and nurtured?
And so even if you do see the world of wealth and image for the illusion it is, and decide to turn your back on it and become a servant of the least instead of the most, wouldn’t it make sense that some of your original programming would remain?
Instead of competing for the corner office, you compete for being the most kind and giving? And if you have never tested yourself in the world of business, of competition and competence, wouldn’t it make sense that a small part of yourself might feel inferior, and following on that, wouldn’t you enjoy indulging in a little passive aggression against a business you couldn’t have started yourself?
The human condition. What can you say?
In my last two posts I covered the gulf in understanding between the homeless and the rest of society. This little section you are reading is describing another area of division between people, the sometimes natural antipathy between the healer/helpers and the business community, and all I am saying is that the businesses aren’t the bad guy all of the time.
If you are running a soup kitchen, is it too much to ask that your clients don’t block the doorways of people trying to make a living? In some cases I guess the answer is yes.
So back to Gabe and his church and his homeless friends.
Part of what drew my attention to this article was the fact that he seemed to have taken the natural friction between businesses and the homeless and crumpled it up into a ball and drop-kicked it over the fence. I am noticing this more in retrospect than at the time. At the time I just kept reading an feeling that I was possibly being exposed to a homeless program that I could get behind.
So, Gabe’s approach to dealing with his neighbors was to get his homeless friends involved in the neighborhood by doing some clean up around the area, landscaping, general improvement of where they were living, creating, instead of friction, some level of fellowship between the locals and the disenfranchised.
And that was different.
And it wasn’t just the appreciation coming from the neighbors, but if I remember correctly, it seemed as if a kind of fire was being lit in other members of the community, leading to the creation of a new community for homeless that was to be called “Everyone Village,” and Gabe was one of the people getting the thing going.
And that was enough for me, the simple concept of bringing people living in the same area together no matter who they were. It made me curious about this person and the village he planned.
From what I could see, it wasn’t really going to be opened for applications for another few months, but I did some simple internet research and found their website, and figured, why not contact them?
So I sent them an email saying I liked what they were trying to do and wanted to be a part of it. I also told them that a guy I know who was associated with them could vouch for me.
And that was it. Being realistic, I didn’t expect any response, though I continued to do research.
I had some reservations about the fact that he was a Christian pastor, having lived in shelters that brought me into contact with many of these folks, and while some of them are stand up guys and as realistic as you could hope for, there are also a fair percentage of them who live in their own separate dream world, as isolated in their way as we homeless are in ours.
My fear was that no matter how good the press was, that this was going to be a situation where I would have to deal with someone who grew up in a Christian home, went to a private Christian high school, and straight from there to Bible College, and on to his own church.
An out of touch unrelatable person.
My concerns were set to rest when I tracked down a Youtube video where Gabe was interviewed and I found out that he had only been a Pastor for a few years, and before that, he had been a lumberjack. In his interview he mentioned that at one time he was a crew boss with a group who would sometimes be far off in the woods away from all civilization, and the only way to get your employees to do what was needed was with your fists.
That’s the kind of pastor I want to be dealing with. The one who used to be a lumberjack.
As I am writing this it is sounding like the brown nose express so let me just say that this is not a description of Gabe as a person but only my first impression which allowed me to contact him.
Not expecting anything, I was surprised to get an email back from Heather, the other co-lead at Everyone Village. It helped that in the email it was mentioned in passing that I knew another local activist associated with the Village, and he must have vouched for me because in her email, Heather said she wanted to meet with me and we scheduled a meeting for the following week.
Even this development was pretty astonishing to me since most places just tell you to fill out a form or get on a list, and I couldn’t understand why they were willing to meet with a rando homeless guy with an email address.
But that was what they wanted, and so I showed up, and even more surprising, Heather spent the better part of an hour describing their vision and asking me about myself and my experiences, and later Gabe came in and we talked for a while too and it was just a pretty good time and I left with a postive feeling.
I mean come on. Who ‘takes a meeting’ with a homeless guy who needs a place.
I came away feeling that in the near future I was going to have a new place to live, and not only that, it wasn’t going to be the kind of place where as long as I followed the rules I could stay there. It was going to be the kind of place where I got to help decide what the rules were going to be in the first place.
And if you have been living as I had with a low-grade grim acceptance that nothing ever changes and you just trudge forward, day after day, nothing really different happening, then to have just the wisp of an inkling of a feeling that something might be different in the future, and that difference might might, be a positive difference, well, that is more than enough to start.
Just that feeling.
Next Week: Moving In.