Thursday, June 4, 2008
Unity, Harmony and Constructive Dissent
It’s strange where one’s challenges come from in caring about people in Dallas who are homeless. In the past, they’ve usually come from seeing the terrible vulnerability of people living on the street, or from fighting city hall, or in the pain of hearing homeless people negatively stereotyped. There’s a joke in our family. According to my daughters, ‘If you want to stay on Mom’s good side, don’t criticize us, her grand kids, or the homeless.’ Indeed, a new potential friendship of mine recently took an abrupt detour into the ditch when the man called the homeless ‘people who don’t want to work and just try to get everything free.’
Still, over the last few years I’ve come to understand that the need of some people to pigeonhole and denigrate the homeless — that need is in itself a kind of poverty. And, if I really watch my own thoughts, I too am guilty of stereotyping — I may be ‘judging the judgers,’ but it’s judgment nonetheless!
Also, over time, I’m learning to come to terms with the tremendous challenges that many homeless individuals have lived with much of or all of their lives: generational poverty of a crippling variety; long-term abuse; incomplete education; the wounds of war; physical, emotional or mental disabilities without the benefit of the remitting medical care many of us take for granted.
Though it’s early days yet, it seems to me thus far that the new direction for the homeless in Dallas signaled by the opening of the Bridge is so much more positive than anything I could have envisioned at this stage that I find myself continually catching my breath in relief, after years of anguish. We have a state-of-the-art facility about which the homeless themselves, or at least the ones I’ve talked to, can scarcely find anything to criticize. Not only is it a one-stop shop for services, it is welcoming and non-threatening refuge, giving people a safe place to be, 24 hours a day, without being harassed — something they have never, in this city’s history, had before.
What most often blindsides me these days, then, is when there are significant differences between those of us who play on the same team — those in the homeless advocacy community. I was talking to a friend about it this week, a pastor who has run a street ministry for several years, and we agreed — those differences can be excruciating. I ask myself why. Is it because the homeless take such a drubbing in society already, and, when you find people who share your sympathy with them, it feels like such an oasis? One thing for sure, it’s a lot more fun to do what we do — whatever that is — in the company of and with the support of others of like mind and similar spirit.
So it particularly troubles me when people who love the homeless take potshots at other people who love the homeless, using ammo that’s seriously flawed. When such criticism becomes necessary, at least it should be based in fact and taken first to those whom it concerns. There’s enough work to do on the problems of homelessness without squandering our energy and resources by criticizing each other falsely and unfairly.
For example, I overheard someone in the homeless advocacy community this week make audacious and untrue accusations about the funding for a recent and important initiative, accusing a service provider of ‘taking a cut’ off public funds, when in fact, the opposite is true — the provider is underwriting part of the money for the initiative. I happened to know the numbers on this issue — and to be certain of the integrity of the provider — and, when I politely presented the facts to the accuser, the numbers that person was scattering about carelessly and presenting as fact suddenly added up very differently.
Why do we do this, attack ‘our own’? Is it because we are passionate about a cause and fear more injustice will be perpetrated? Or maybe we see our role in the situation changing, and it frightens us.
Whatever the motive, the issues surrounding homelessness are extremely complex, as complex as the individuals who comprise the homeless population. Just as there is not one profile of a person who is homeless — or of a person who lives in north Dallas, or of an urban dweller, or of a south Dallas resident — neither is there one group, one role, one answer, one approach, which can alone solve all of the problems associated with homelessness.
If we are going to team up with our homeless neighbors to facilitate a process by which they can rebuild their lives, we will need all of the resources at our disposal — and then some. What we don’t need is infighting, backbiting, labeling, accusing or to be flagrantly flinging about false information.
It’s not that we have to be unified or that we must speak with one voice. In diversity is strength, and vigilant, constructive criticism is always and absolutely essential.
We need not unity, but harmony.
True, there are minor glitches as the Bridge undertakes its new role and settles in to its enormous responsibilities, but what is being done there is light years ahead of what we’ve previously done as a city. It appears as if Dallas may be emerging as a national model for ‘doing it right’ for our homeless citizens. Isn’t that exciting and what we all want? What an awe-inspiring change from being the Sixth Meanest City in America!
To me, it seems that Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and the Stewpot have taken on the daunting task of running the Bridge, providing a refuge for all who need it, and feeding all who come to eat — and are meeting the immense demands of that task extremely well. I hope all of us who have worked with the homeless in various capacities in the past can embrace not only the beauty in the diverse faces we see in the food lines at the Bridge, but also embrace the richness of the myriad approaches brought by everyone who loves those faces and longs to see them free of the tyranny of street life.
Article today in the Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/060508dnmetbridge.3ac8372.html
Also see LA’s Homeless Blog, “When the Community Aligns”, http://www.lahomelessblog.org/archive/2008_05_18_archive.html