Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who Will Care? We'll Find Out

Today I started mentally composing a list of housed people, houses of worship and organizations that might actually care about what happens to homeless people.

Still can't get it out of my mind: Mayor Ryan KNOWS that people will be out on the street as of June 30, and he has CHOSEN to close the Warming Place because he thinks that the unsheltered will disappear from Springfield if they have no shelter. He fears that if there is even ONE vacancy at any Springfield shelter, we will draw in homeless people from outside the city. (I know writing in caps is gauche but I am THINKING in caps.)

In my spare time (ha!) I am going to find out:
Do cities the size of Westfield and Ludlow, if they are near a major metropolitan area, EVER provide their own shelter?
Is the ratio of Springfield homeless to non-Springfield homeless (about 60%/40% as I recall, with 75% from Hampden County) really that different than in any other city Springfield's size?

I am so tired of the crap and the assumptions.about people who become homeless.

Maybe one reason the idea of a tent city feels not foreign to me is that I've spent a little more than a tenth of my life living in a tent. When I homesteaded in Maine with my husband at the time, we built a shelter by pulling down saplings, tying them together, creating a weave with other small trees, and then covering the whole affair with canvas tarps and with flattened cardboard boxes stuffed inbetween. We built the shelter over a wonderful outcropping of rock that formed a natural fireplace. Smoke drifted up to a hole in the chimney. In the winters we used a tin stove.

Of course, getting wood for the stove was an ongoing affair. I fell into the habit of looking for standing deadwood-- didn't want to cut living trees and deadwood on the ground tended to be too wet. I got pretty good at knowing at a glance, even in the winter without leaves to guide me, which trees were standing up dead, and then mentally marking them for harvesting later. It took years for the habit to die away after I came back to Springfield. It was both a pleasurable activity-- in the sense of some treasure found-- and a habit necessary for survival in the Maine winters.

Now I find myself scanning the city as I drive, looking for vacant lots, hidden yet accessible places where people might camp if they had to. I remember doing this three years ago, after Sanctuary City agreed to find another place to move after six weeks on the lush lawn of St. Michael's. Same skill, different use.

A few of today's small pleasures (I didn't go looking for them, but boy, were they needed):
-- The grackles feeding their babies under the eaves of my work window eat my cracker crumbs.
-- The scent of lilacs drifts into my window.
-- I hear singing and look out my window and a Somalian woman is striding to the bus stop in full song.
Photo by William Cordero

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