By Stephanie Hawkins
Homelessness is a word that numerous people would be hard pressed to define. Many may describe it, many will ignore it, but unless you have experienced it, it is merely a word in our vocabulary that we just gloss over. Literally, HOME is defined as a place where one lives permanently as a member of a family or household, but an alternate definition is an institution for people needing professional care or supervision. The operative word is people, but do the words ‘people’ and ‘institution’ seem compatible in any way? People conveys emotion, but institution conveys cold indifference.
LESS is defined as fewer in number or one of low rank or importance. Again the contradiction. LESS gives the illusion that the number of homeless individuals is decreasing, a misnomer then. Now, the definition ‘of lower importance’ is true.
Lastly, NESS, something in a certain state. Accurate again, since homeless individuals often are viewed as SOMETHING in a STATE. But it can also be defined as a Promontory. A promontory, which I had to look up, is a protuberance from an organ. So, to summarize, when defining homelessness, one is an institution for those who have a low rank or importance and are viewed as something in a certain state that sticks out of an organ. Maybe just say appendix, since it sticks out like a sore thumb but, man, can it be a problem when it acts up. Regardless, of how it is defined, and every individual’s definition will be different, homelessness is not just a word, but a real issue that cannot be ignored. It is not something that can just be swept under the rug or hidden behind a brickhouse, but a tangible, pulsating force, who needs to be fed, clothed, housed, given quality mental health and medical care, and treated with dignity and respect.
When I was first introduced to NEOCH, I was sitting in Bishop Cosgrove Center and a friend said, “Come to this meeting and you can get a bus pass.” Walking is probably the primary transportation of many homeless individuals (the trolley, albeit fantastic, can only take you so far). No one wants you in their car, although they are very good at driving by and doing nothing. If I had a dollar for every time someone said “I saw you walking” and did nothing, I could have amassed a small fortune let alone not been one of those unfortunate people trapped in what I consider the ”pothole.”
What is the pothole you may ask? That’s the group of homeless people who are too old, but not old enough, not addicted to drugs, and have no children. We are not important enough to receive assistance, which leaves one with a lot of time. Many choose to use this time to idle, but thankfully, due to numerous mentors, churches and others which are too multiple to list, this time is a journey that I can chronicle and share.
When asked to write my story, I would venture that it is not something I could do in a single article. Speaking in generalities is often easiest, because the tale would be too long. As a woman, I will provide my experience of a woman staying in the homeless shelter. I would define it as “traumatic” and “abusive.” In my opinion, and that of many I’ve spoken to, the women’s shelter is a place run with a “prison mentality,” where the abused became abusers, and are more than happy to let people die to hide their secrets. Drugs are rampant, ensuring people remain addicted instead of finding a pathway to recovery. People who never chose to rise above ensure that others continue to fall. To be honest, animals are treated better than the homeless at the women’s shelter. PETA would protest its conditions, but we are not dogs, so why are we being treated that way. (Ok, now I know why I have to walk so much. Maybe, I’ll get my leash next week). So, get the lead out, literally. (Need I even mention the Lead problem?)
Discrimination, deception and disease run amok; gang activity praised; and hopefully, in the near future, shank class. Food, we’ll just take it right out of the garbage can, but trust and believe the staff never miss a meal. There are a few good people, workers, but apparently current trainers believe that integrity can be purchased or provided by a “certificate.” ADA violations everywhere, but hey, it is just homeless people, so what does it matter. Maybe, rename them homeless things. It’s worse elsewhere.
Perhaps, so far, you would think that I define homelessness as complaining, or to euphemize, venting, but it is about ensuring every voice is heard, and at times that voice may be harsh. A lot of people may want to just have their five minutes of fame or just complain and never attempt any solutions. (Yup, never underestimate the power of…uh…complaining…and doing something about it!)
Thankfully, NEOCH helped provide more than just a building to cool down on a real hot August day, but also a place to laugh and learn since their outreach is extensive. But it does take effort on one’s part, even on days where people feel the tank is empty.
So, thank you Brian for your help and legacy, and as we transition forward, may you live long and prosper. Try to not to stay home too much, and always remember the importance of a Scooby Snack, but not the doggie kind, the kind meant for people. Sadly, I do need to specify.