Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What Is Community?

A community is a self-sustaining entity
A community is a collection of different ideals that coalesce into a whole
A community is an “us” that lives together
A community doesn’t always live in harmony, but issues are resolved for the sustaining of the whole
A community is usually recognized by other communities as being a unit—but even if it is not, it does not negate its viability.

The homeless are not a “problem”. The homeless are a community.

I’m not talking about the homeless who are out on the street for a month, desperately seeking a way out and then getting a home to their great relief. I’m talking about the chronic homeless, who seek to sustain in a population that denies their right to survive. They are denied who they are because of the prejudices that are forced on them. The labels “addict”, “lazy”, “violent”, “irrational” that are less likely accurate to an individual person, but is applied to the group as a whole without remorse end up causing the homeless to hate himself for being a part of what he is not.

The chronic homeless are not just outcast, they are an outcast community. The homeless have gate-keepers, who take the newbies under their wing, guiding them to the methods of survival on the street. They have leaders that keep the peace and determine the limits and allowances of their community. They have loves and hates, dramas and conflicts, resolutions and truces, hopes and goals just like all other communities.

Although the homeless are at the center of their community, they are not the only members. At the outskirts of this community, one foot in, one foot out, are the middle class servers of the community. They offer food, clothes, showers, AA meetings, sermons, temporary housing and many other services. These charity givers have different purposes, and have different impacts on the community. Most of them do their service, but don’t really want to connect to the community out of personal preference or even fear. Many of them have relationships with some of the community, but only out of professional goals, due to their job. A very few actually make the full step into the community and have personal relationships with the homeless. These are the bridges, the ones who see the community for what it is and who try to communicate this vibrancy to those who live in fear of the community.

The community also has its enemies. The city leaders who deny the existence of the community, and only see the homeless as non-citizens, roadblocks to the way of life they are trying to achieve. The police who move camps on, telling the homeless to leave their city. The young people who attack the helpless, beating up and even burning the homeless who aren’t on their guard. Those who take it upon themselves to throw away the camps of the homeless, including their tents, sleeping bags and personal items that cannot be replaced. The mutual anger at these enemies can also sustain unity, just as every other community.

I deeply regret what the community is not allowed. They are religious but not allowed a church, for they do not have the land in which to have one. They are hard workers but not allowed to be self-sustaining, because no one sees them as working unless they become a part of the community of employed. They are proud but not allowed to be respected because they are outcast. They are moral but not allowed to be legal because they are by definition criminals.

The worst of all, is that, for the most part, the homeless receive their community definition defined by the stereotypes of the threatened community—the middle class. They see themselves as a community of addicts, of the lazy, of the worthless. Not because the community fits the definition—almost everyone they know are exceptions to the rule of the stereotype. But because everyone believes of themselves what they hear. No matter how untrue it is.

1 comment:

leeann said...

really educational.