Sunday, May 1, 2011

Discourse to Paradigm Change

Originally Posted on April 17, 2007

Homelessness. Not exactly an easy subject to discuss, even in the classroom. However, in our class it is necessary to discuss this, as it is a part of our discovery of the concept of home.

How can one be without a physical home? Why do we have a societal problem where thousands of people are perpetually homeless? Why do we have a severe class divide that has shut out populations from being able to share in parts of this country’s economy?

These are valid questions, and help is on the way. Our class was fortunate to have as a guest Cathy ten Broeke, the Coordinator on Homeless for Minneapolis and Hennepin County. Ten Broeke’s mission was to get our region to stop managing the homeless problem, but to end it altogether in the course of ten years.

This sounds like an ambitious plan, but after reading some of the materials on it; it is a sound concept worth doing. Ten Broeke researched ideas from around the country to see what can work here in The Cities. Not only will this plan be implemented in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, similar coordinated efforts are being launched in St. Paul/Ramsey County, Duluth/St. Louis County and in Southeastern Minnesota.

You can read about the Commission’s plan (which is no longer available on the City of Minneapolis' website). Also, if you feel compelled to help out in any way to end homelessness, ten Broeke wants to recruit 700 volunteers for October 1 when Project Homeless Connect has their annual event at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This is where the area’s homeless would be able to come and get “one-stop” assistance on services ranging from health, housing, food and employment. Ten Broeke hopes that someday a permanent “one-stop” program would be in place to assist homeless needing connection to services.

Why is it important to talk about ending homelessness? Want proof? Read the report recently released by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation regarding this issue. You will be surprised by some of its findings. I know I was.

You see, there is a personal element to this issue. A few times in my life I found myself homeless. According to the Wilder Report, most of my homelessness was in “informal shelters,” or on the couch of friends or people who gave a damn about my survival. I also experienced the shelter system at one time, but I will attest that I never slept out on the street even in the direst of situations. These experiences were catalysts to try to better my life once I am in a permanent employment and housing situation. Being temporary in any aspect of life can be bordering on the realm of civility.

When you’re in dire straits, you have choices. The first choice one must make is to live or die. As extreme as it sounds, survival is the most basic element to help motivate a person to get out of their situation. From there, the choices available to an individual expand. Ultimately, the goal is to stabilize to fulfill your basic needs: food, clothing and shelter. Safety should also be taken in consideration.

Because of my experiences, I was not looking forward to this past Monday’s class meeting. There was too much emotional baggage to want to intellectualize and create discourse on this subject. However, I was drawn to ten Broeke’s presentation and was glad that I did not have to resort to my anger about the conditions that are enabling the current state of homelessness in this country. With that, I will be sending an e-mail to ten Broeke thanking her for taking the lead on this subject.

As for those of you reading this blog, do me a favor: GIVE A DAMN! Why? You may or may not agree with the recommendations that the Commission to End Homelessness offers in this area, but consider the alternatives. You can walk to and from your office and get hassled by a panhandler. You can find someone sleeping at the front door of your lovely new $300,000 condo near downtown. You can end up without a job and a home because the job market dried up just when your unemployment benefits are no longer available.

We do not need to ask pithy questions about this. We need to shoot straight and get results. We need to know that there are actions locally to stop homelessness and poverty in our community. We also need to improve conditions between races, sexualities, genders, generations and classes so we can resolve our chasms to build better communities. We must remove the wedges created by this regime at the twilight of this empire.

Pardon my anger, but it is my hope that everyone can change their paradigm about their entire worldview as Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis has changed theirs towards the issue of homelessness.

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