I have a friend who grew up here, has lived in a warmer climate the last few years, and came back. She grew up in the city, but later lived in a rural suburb while in NH. Returning to the city after lo these many years she is distressed by the homeless, and more acutely aware of the cold they experience. She goes into town and talks with them at various locales. She is tender-hearted - a good Biblical virtue, that - and the predictable things she has heard and read over the years occur to her. No one grows up wanting to be a homeless person/addict. We are a rich country, this should not be happening. Everyone's story is different.
These things are true.
She noticed that the old intercity bus station, owned by the city, was closed over the winter. Why not open it up for people who have no shelter? It's below zero some nights. I will note that what she seemed upset about to me is something that Other People should be doing. I don't know what she has done herself, and that may be a great deal. Yet I have learned that my first question should be "Is there something I can personally do here?" And my experience is that people tend to ask mostly one question or the other. I think that speaks to deep philosophical differences. (See paragraph 7) She called a politically-connected friend who was once the Democratic candidate for governor in NH, who put her onto what local political figures might make this happen for her.
Well, it might work, and a few people might get out of the cold next year. I am familiar with touching stories that are also real, of poor people standing by each other and forming small communities and helping each other out. In fact, that is what most people desperately in need of shelter are like, because they are mostly like us. It is unfortunate that we adopt the shortcut that because 20% of the poor are violent and abusive to regard them each as 20% violent and abusive. This is not so, and we have to keep pushing ourselves to relearn it. (And Christians have some interest in the 20% who are deeply pathological as well.)
However, I also know of some worse stories, because the desperate include a disproportionate percentage of people who have alienated others for good reason, or made decisions bad for others repeatedly. One very real possibility is that a few violent people will establish dominance over the new area and decent people will have one more place they can't go. How can this be prevented? Someone must supervise and enforce at some level, whether at entry or overnight or round-the-clock. Where will we find them? Should someone exercise supervision over them? Paid or unpaid?
To be frighteningly blunt, there are reasons why there are women-only shelters and all of the others make some effort to segregate children away from the general population. I think spontaneous community can be a beautiful thing, but it's only automatic at the Heartwarming Stories Company.
It is difficult to make things and maintain them, but easy to destroy them. It is absolutely true that collective action working even somewhat smoothly can accomplish much more in terms of prosperity, justice, and safety net. Jesus did found a new church, a tribe, not an unassociated collection of individuals who wave to each other and blow kisses. Yet if you start by thinking about what We can do, there is an immediate temptation to dip down to what Those Others can do, and very soon you are in a political or journalistic setting where making other people do things is all you know.
You mentioned hobby horses, and of course this is one of mine. I always want to ask people whether there's something they've personally wanted to do about this social problem that's tormenting them, and what exactly stopped them? "Let's you and him pay to fix this problem that keeps me awake at night." Or, "I suppose I could take one of those homeless guys home and give him soup and a warm place to sleep in my own house, but (a) what a drag and (b) what's the point if you won't do it, too? Unless the Nanny State promises to fix 100% of the problem, I'd rather not fix any part of it."
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