The Homeless Experience is definitely of “use” in keeping the rest of us working like good citizens and not dallying, but if one tries to think about them from the perspective of reintegration, some interesting ideas arise.
Once we have gotten done wantonly punishing homeless for not participating in the workforce, it may be of great interest to us to see what we’ve done to them. Thought of as wholly separate entitities they can perhaps all go to hell and who gives a toot. If all we consider them as being relavent to is that they are a nuisance to be relocated, then that is not much better. But to the extent that we might consider ourselves as one in a distinctly human experience which ties us all together in spite of everything, we would have an interest in what we have done to them. This is key. This is more the key than yes they can see, or yes they can count, or maybe sweep a street. Also, I’m not addressing inherent psychological disturbance of which there is admittedly much and for which little can perhaps be done from a causative perspective. I am addressing psychological issues created by the state of being homeless and the reality of what that means in terms of being cast out, unwanted, unacknowledged as a human being in spite of everything, unhelped, unloved, and undeveloped as a person. No matter where on the scale of competency a person falls, this reality has an effect all it’s own. These are basic human needs which do not go away because a person is homeless. I believe that much of the highly obnoxious, aggressive behavior seen in homeless people, especially towards each other as men and women, and which certainly does not help endear them to passersby, is based on narcissistic rage which stems logically and in no small part from the underlying subjective crisis caused by being in this state.
What could this possibly mean in terms of city policy? Well, that’s a good question and if the answer were easy it probably would have been discovered already. Any useful answer that CAN be put forth however, has very far reaching potential to act as a model for everyplace else that struggles with the same problem as soon as they find the political will to do something. The thing that draws my interest into putting a serious bead on this line of inquiry is the word “compassionate.” If this word is to put it’s honesty where it’s mouth is and not just be a politically efficacious platitude, then there is hope here. It is challenging to be compassionate to someone who is being an ass. Even then, it is even more challenging to feel compassion with enough conviction to break the unspoken rules which keep us from thinking too intensely about this, and cause us to essentially dismiss the homeless as being human garbage to be tolerated, shuffled around, whatever.
For Berkeley to lead the way it has to break a social rule, and this is a big deal. The rule which it has to break is the rule which states that the homeless experience is entirely something that homeless people have done to themselves. To break that rule is to acknowledge tacitly and publically that at least in part, something has also been done TO them to create their particular experience. This is a big no no, because you can see as an admission of guilt how it deflects responsibility - and as everyone knows there is no extra budget for a new sense of such responsibility. Even if one did invest money that doesn’t exist into capital investments to shelter and feed the homeless and maybe put them to work somehow or try to get them back on their feet (note Delancey Street in S.F. as a model), it doesn’t necessarily address the core issue which I am addressing.
For Berkeley to lead the way it has to ask the homeless what it feels like to be disenfranchised. It has to do this publically. It has to demonstrate a genuine curiosity to know what their experience is and has been like regardeless of their state of apparent sanity. It has to put the pictures and stories and whatever other content is generated forward in a public venue, and something meaningful - not hidden away in the back room of a library. This is not just a horrid exercize. It has a great use, greater than sweeping all the streets - and one that benefits everyone, not just the homeless themselves. It is reintegration for us too, with our ability to be compassionate in a whole way, not a comparmentalized, selective way which is guided by various social traffic signs. It also challenges us to accept our role in this drama. It is a bold act which will be appreciated first by the mature, costs very little, and is a first step in offering a slice of dignity to the homeless. After all the first wave of inevitable and reasonable rage is allowed to vent, it lets them know that they actually do mean something in the community because the measure of their HUMAN EXPERIENCE is actually sought out as it relates to their extraordinarily stressful circumstance.