Friday, April 29, 2016

No Walls to hide

Guest Blogger
Claire Martin
Craig's Place Staff

I have a memory of myself as a child, sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s car, looking out the window at some new construction being built as we drove by. It was becoming a huge gray building, rectangular in shape, and impressive in size. As we drove past it, I said to my mother, “That should be a homeless shelter.” I’m not sure how I was even aware of the concept of homelessness given my very sheltered world – perhaps a movie on TV, or a story in the news, but I remember this interaction specifically because of my mother’s reaction to it – she laughed.

It took me years to understand why she thought my suggestion was so funny.  I saw a big empty building, a spacious place where there could be beds, and tables of food. It seemed perfectly logical to me at the time.

What I didn’t know is that our society’s attitude toward the problem of homelessness was very unlike my childlike view. There is a near unshakable belief in our minds that those who suffer without a home are a product of their own poor judgment in life, and homelessness is a kind of societal penalty that is well deserved.

Craig’s Place is a wet shelter. If you are not familiar with the term, it simply means that we do not require our guests to be “dry” and sober upon entry. We meet you where you are in life. We sign everybody in, wand everybody, and search for contraband (alcohol, needles, weapons etc.). We lock away any and all contraband found for the night, and our guests’ possessions are returned to them upon departure. Many people do not understand the purpose of a wet shelter, sometimes thinking that we should put a greater emphasis on rehabilitated behavior.  However our function is far simpler than that. We are an EMERGENCY shelter. Our intake is based on vulnerability and need. In other words, we do not believe that because a person is an addict, that person deserves to die in the cold when we have the services to prevent it.

The scrutiny upon our guests is palpable. How many times have we heard in reference to them, “They should just get a job,” their stories are boiled down to the nearest available prejudice. Why can’t they just get a job? Why can’t their families help them? Why should we support these people at all, when they should be able to take care of themselves, if they only really wanted to? Why ask for grants and public support? I find the latter is especially what people tend to be “concerned” with – that we could be wasting valuable money on people who don’t deserve it.

Because you see, homeless shelters don’t generate revenue.

I think its easy for us to demonize the homeless because we like to think that we could never be in a similar situation ourselves. The very thought of descending to a level where, safety, privacy and cleanliness become unattainable scares us to our very core. As it is, we have a tendency to forget that most of us are doing as well as we are because we have had people to help us, to house and clothe us, to give us a ride to school or work, to give us recommendations and second chances, and access to medical care. But I promise you, among all of us that have managed to procure these things, there are addicts, there are criminals, there are the mentally ill. The only difference is, they have a home.

You and I have a place to go at night, a place to wake up warm every morning, closets to keep our clothes pressed, laundry facilities to keep them clean. We can take showers whenever we want, we can wake up every morning and present whatever kind of face we want to the world outside. Our walls, our privacy, our autonomy... allows us these options. It isn’t that we are devoid of faults and habits that are shameful – its that we can hide them.

It is often said that you never really know someone until you live with them. After all, that’s when the bad habits come out. But beyond that, the world has to assume we are who we say we are, barring further evidence to the contrary. Walls are very forgiving, but people aren’t. And against a clear background, our sins are laid bare for the world to see, scrutinize, and ultimately condemn us. There is nowhere to hide. It isn’t that the homeless are less moral or deserving than anyone else, its that when they do struggle, everyone can see.

At one point in my life, when I was 18, I found myself pregnant, homeless from fleeing a turbulent relationship, and having moved south, I was far from familial support. I called my mother for help, and she suggested that I sleep in my car. This I did, luckily only for a night or two, as some kind friends eventually intervened. But I often think back to those days and wonder, would I be where I am now if my housing situation remained in a state of impermanence?  Would the situation have played out as well as it did in the end? Would I even have survived it? We all would like to believe that these are the kinds of situations that only happen to other people, that we ourselves are too far from the reach of desperation’s grip. But the truth is, this population is full of You’s and Me’s. It’s a reflection of our society; a doppelganger for every type. And I feel that if more people would be open to visiting us, they might get to meet theirs, and possibly see Craig’s Place – and themselves – in a different light.

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