Friday, September 24, 2010

Homeless Culture: Dependence

The homeless also have an equal amount of dependence on the kindness of others. One’s kind heart provides food, another provides funds, another provides clothing. The homeless soon learn that while they are free from the tyranny of middle class life, they are enslaved to the good intentions of strangers.

Homelessness is a certain kind of slavery. Because when one is unable to control the resources they need to live on—food, clothing, etc—then one must do whatever is required in order to obtain these resources. This may mean walking miles, or it may mean holding a sign indicating one’s pathetic state. It may mean humiliation or it may mean standing in a line. Or it may be listening to a sermon. Whatever is required, some will do it. Every “gift” has a price and this price eats at the “freedom” of the homeless.

Just like all life, it is a balance between freedom and tyranny. The homeless have chosen, for the most part, the tyranny of the good hearted.


Sarah said...

You have been raising salient points - and fascinated by the keen insights. But do you think the great majority of them even had come from a middle-class life? Before even feeling free from the "tyranny of middle-class" lifestyle, I do not think many of them even had the exposure to that privilege. Many have no high school diploma, some are illiterate. Many come from broken low-income or working-class families. And even more are those who are severely mentally ill, who probably would have no typical experience of the middle class anyway even if they were.

This brings to a point that could be inconvenient to some Christians who preach the virtue of poverty: Money is freedom. Money buys freedom in this capitalist society. It is a life-force that fuels one' ability to choose and achieve many things. Being rich, thus, is good so long as the wealth is being used to fulfill one's God-given destiny and vocations. It takes a wealthy benefactor to pay for the Anawim house and for the church building. It takes a pool of family-wage earners who can pledge a good amount of money to get them going. Unless we are going to empower these people to gain wealth, and if all what we do is to feed them and foster this sense of docile dependency, then all is lost -- and 20 years from now we will still be seeing the same faces of the chronic bums who have lost all ideas of what it was like to be humans.

Steve Kimes said...

Sorry if you are getting multiple comments. Google and I are having problems with each other this morning.

Your points are interesting, but I don't know who you are responding to. Many of the homeless have come from the middle class-- and the working class is really just another name for the middle class-- even if they were low income. Certainly not all. A number of them had parents who had addiction lifestyles, but a number did not. There's a good mix of backgrounds out there.

As far as those who "preach the virtues of poverty", I have never said that rich people who gave their money up to the poor were bad. I've always praised them. Is there a benefit to be poor? Jesus said there is: "Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6:20.

None of us needs money. We need the ability to survive. You are right, money is freedom, it is power. Yet not all of us can deal with that kind of freedom. A lot of money is like a superpower-- we can either use it for the good of society, or to be a villain, and it requires wisdom to know the difference. Few of us have this wisdom.

Oprah did an experiment in which she gave a homeless man 100,000 dollars without preparing him ahead of time for this. So he used the money how his current culture prepared him to-- he got an apartment, an expensive truck and cars for his friends. And all of America shook their heads at his foolishness. This money did give him a little bit of freedom. Even though he might lose his apartment, he is still better off because he's got the truck to live in. And so do his friends. No, the money didn't help him in the way people think that it should, but it did help.

But if Oprah had given him and his friends cars, they would have been just as well off. It isn't the money that helped him, it's the stuff that assists survival. Being a consumer offers freedom, but not necessarily a better life.