Ashland churches and civic organizations worked with Southern Oregon University to conduct an extensive survey of the homeless people of Ashland. It was a snapshot, of course, part of the data collection effort to figure out what to do. To assess the problem, you need to know the problem.
We knew we had homeless and we knew there were a number of reasons for it. As often happens, prejudices, misconceptions and rumors created challenges for understanding a complex problem. The results are fascinating.
Broadly categorizing them, you have the true homeless, the homeless by choice, and con artists who are not actually homeless but play one in real life to make money. Within those categorizies were broad overlaps of who, what and why. There are some that are living out the repercussions and ramifications of the global economic issues, losing everything except their cars and a few possessions. Drugs, bad decisions, family, health and emotional issues often contributed but sometimes luck did as well, bad luck that came at once and put them under.
Most interesting to me were the young people. There are groups who have chosen homelessness as a lifestyle. They like the days of wandering around, maybe playing music, living off hand outs and free food the community provides. Most of them move with the weather, heading to warmer zones when winter moves in. They are mostly aggressive panhandlers but usually polite and humorous in their approach. They generally don't want to cause problems and recognize that they're mooching. Some will sometimes engage in broader philosophical discussions about who owns the land and the social, economic and political impact of our country's free market consumer approach.
A smaller set of homeless is not as often seen. They keep hidden by their design. These are the gay teenagers tossed out by their families when they announced their orientation. Their stories are painful because their emotional pain is so clear after their family rejected them. So is their fear. They know too well there are too many people in too many places that will beat them for being gay. They stay hidden. They're often floppers, crashing at friend's houses for a day, maybe two, having a meal and a shower before moving on. The best part of their story, if you're looking for a good part, is that the gay community tries to help one another. They keep track of these kids and give them what support they can but the numbers are too great for permanent solutions, other than acceptance by their families.
Reading the interviews and case stories is reading stories of America. People suffered mental and emotional injuries in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars, and here they are, homeless. Some people dropped out in the 60s and succumbed to drugs and alcohol, and here they are. Others were part of the more recent crash, including many who say, why try any longer? You want me to work and go to school and make myself something but why should I try? Look how well that worked out for so many others.
I understand their argument and sentiment. Cop out or truth, rationalization or reality? I don't know. It's a complex problem. No easy answers are evident because they are people, as unique and individual as that implies, each with their own history. To solve their problems, to help them with their problems, remains the same challenge as it is for everyone. They have the added dimension of being homeless. For those who find it thrust on them due to drugs problems, bad luck, sexual orientation, mental and emotional illness, it's hard. Homelessness carries shame. Many people scorn and blame you for your situation. It's hard to for them to stay hopeful and optimistic. That leaves it up to the rest of us to help them stay hopeful and optimistic.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com