Thursday, July 26, 2001

Shelter Canaries Needed

It Also Rhymes With Hoots

Or Opus 222, Pity Our Poor Proofreader

there's a kind of thing i need to say

i'd like to say it if I may

there's a little talk i'd like with you

if it's something that you'll let me do

there's a subject i need to talk about

i hope you'll hear me and you won't run out

it's a subject that requires the utmost arts

i need to talk about our --

-- how can I be delicate here? People make certain smells. The smells are accompanied by certain explosions, sometimes. At other times, they are silent, stealthy. Once, I could swear I felt one crawl up my back before it circled my neck and tried to strangle me.

I love cheese. I love beans. If I weren't a social creature I would eat rice and beans twice a day, covered with cheese. I would have eggs and cheese for breakfast, beans and cheese for dessert, eggs and cheese when I get depressed, beans and cheese whenever I wanted to celebrate. I would be so full of methane I'd have to wear one of those triangular "inflammable" signs you see on gasoline trucks.

It's not just because I'm eight days older than Anitra "too bipolar for you" Freeman that she refers to me as "her old fart". She is also using synecdoche. That's a poetic term that means allowing a part to stand for the whole. Anitra should know, she's suffered all my parts. Still, with all that, I must say in all modesty that I am not the fartiest old fart there ever was. Not by a long shot. I could introduce you to some guys that'd blow your nose-ring clean off. And they're not all that old. Some of them are just in their twenties, living lives of unpromising futures.

Flashback to four years old: Mommy and Daddy are going "out" and everybody gets in the car except the dog. It starts out being a big adventure ("we're going out! yay!") until the car rolls up to a one story puke green building connected to a playground surrounded by chain-link fencing. You find out that while Mom and Dad will be "out", you will be "in", in a prison they used to call a nursery. Since your parents have done what you thought at the time were far worst things, you imagine that they are abandoning you to this place, to spend the rest of your life there. In other words, eternity.

You scream, you kick, you threaten to stop breathing, but nothing works. They drive off without you. It's only after they are gone that you start to notice the smell. It's the smell of rancid milk mixed with essences of diaper pail, Pine Sol, and Clorox. But that's just the beginning.

Three hours later you're still there, and the wardens inform you and all the other inmates that it's beddy-bye-time, and they set up the beddy-byes, and there be the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. For the beddy-byes be only six inches apart from each other, and it be Poot City in that hell-hole. You try to sleep not because you want the rest but because you know that sleep, the little death, brings a deadening of the senses, and Oh do they want to be deadened.

But alack, sleep never comes! Oh, it comes for the OTHER, with their stinking extroversion, their relaxed approaches to social mores, their loose sphincters. Sure, THEY sleep. Not you, not the sensitive one, not the one in agony, the one who really needs it.

Back in the future: you've been homeless for weeks. Someone finally tells you about a homeless shelter you can go to. Something in the back of your mind tells you to be wary, but you go anyway. They make you sit through a sermon to get dinner. While you wait for the sermon to start they hand you a sheet detailing the rules. You find out you will be sleeping on mats.

You get a peek into the room where all the mats are laid out, six inches apart from each other. Then you hear the others, whispering the bad news.

"Bean stew for dinner tonight. Again."

-- Why shelter is not enough.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

No One Likes A Pus-Filled Wonk

Writing for Real Change puts me in the hub of the whirlwind of the big swirly thing that is homeless people's services on this planet. OK, not really in the hub, but at one of places where the spokes stick in the rim.

I try to ignore it. If I were to reflect upon every little policy paper, service squabble, action plan, or the little controversies surrounding them, I would turn into one giant pus-filled wonk. No one likes a pus-filled wonk. Still, one cannot help but notice that there is a big push on to separate "chronic" homeless people from "temporary" homeless people, in order to tailor interventions in their chronic-hood-ness.

The theory is that "chronic" equates with "wants to be homeless". So if someone is homeless too long, they must be asking for it. That proves that they are sickos who need help to see the error of their ways.

You see why I try to stay out of stuff like this? Right from the start I am tempted to have a big wonky fit about the abuse of the word "chronic". But if I do, I just get sucked into their level. I become the same kind of loser as the clowns who come up with these warped theories in the first place.

OK, suppose your Safe Oven or Brave New Haven or whatever you call it works like a charm, and you find out who all the chronic homeless people are, the nasty ones that cause all the trouble. You have a list.

And, suppose that these nasty chronic homeless buggers are to homelessness what anorexia is to starvation, in that they do it on purpose to themselves because there is something wrong with them.

Now you want to make them stop, so that they cease behaviors that negatively impact on society (eewww, I can't believe I just wrote that.) Since these are people who like being homeless, you can't help them until they recognize that they have a problem. In other words, you have to intervene.

What is that going to look like? Remember that while this intervention is going on, the 90% of non-chronic homeless are still going to be around and proof against any absurdity.

A man tries to sleep in a park after closing time of 11:30 PM. The police, recognizing a known chronic homeless man, send for a crack team of Chronic Homelessness Busters. The team leader, Jennifer, breaks the ice:

"Hey there, homeless man, what's your name?"

"They call me Bulldog, ma'am. Because once I bite you, I never let go."

"Well, that's a nice name, Bulldog. Now let me tell you why we're here. We're here because you should be in a shelter right now. Since you aren't in a shelter, it looks like you like sleeping in parks."

"I'm tired. When I'm tired, I like sleeping. Park seemed a good place."

"Well, that's wrong of you to think that way. Society doesn't want you to sleep in the park."

"So? Society's not here. The park is closed. So it's just me."

"Right, but the REASON the park is closed is because society doesn't want you sleeping here. Even though society isn't here to see it."

"OK. Where does society want me to sleep?"

"In a shelter."

"Take me to it."

See what I'm getting at? Point for Bulldog.