Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not easy being homeless in Springfield

I was going to put up some links from MassLive and LocalBuzz to illustrate some of the publicity homeless efforts are getting in Springfield, but for some reason, all I could find was a LocalBuzz interview with a staffperson at the Worthington St. Shelter. The other stories seem to have disappeared.

Meanwhile, over at MassLive, Springfield's "forum," homeless people continue to take a beating from those who hide behind their made-up names. Folks have really been on a roll recently, comparing homeless people to zombies, calling the folks who eat at the soup kitchen a bunch of slobs, calling them crazy, dangerous, etc...I try to remember that not every poster feels that way; the more reasonable people probably just don't bother to respond to the worst comments. Most people think that homeless people choose to be homeless, because they won't take the steps necessary to move ahead. Well, of course it's much easier to fall into a hole than it is to climb out.

Some horrendous crimes have been happening in Springfield. The one this week that just leaves me shaking my head in sorrow is the murder of a 20 year old kid delivering pizzas by a 28 year old man.What the hell. There was a picture of the man being arraigned in today's paper: a slight figure, all hunched over, looking as if he was filled with shame. Maybe that's just my wish-- that he not be some genuine psychopath unable to feel remorse but someone who will have to live with what he has done-- taken the life of another young man who was only doing his job, trying to get ahead.

I'm no sociologist and I admit I have an unabashed allegiance to the poor and working class. But I'm no romantic, either, and not one who thinks there's no role for personal responsibility in our fates.

Many years ago, before I ever knew there'd be an Arise for Social Justice in Springfield, I used to be part of a program called Decisional Training that went into the county jails and taught decision-making skills to the prisoners both in a group and one to one. We could bring in books. One of them was Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. It's been years since I read it, but Frankl used his experience in a Nazi concentration camp to question why, barring the random and systematic murders over which prisoners had no control, some people lived and some people did not survive their experience. Frankl came to the conclusion that after all other freedoms were taken away, those who refused to give up their final freedom, the freedom to decide how they were going to react, were those who survived. I am oversimplifying both Frankl and the complexities of survival in those hellholes, but the gist of holds true.

Anyway, it was a very popular book in the jail, and was passed to person after person. After that we'd bring in a copy every few months. These guys recognized something about the power in choosing.

Sometimes when I'm talking with somebody about poor or homeless people, and we go back and forth, we often wind up at the same place, with that person saying that: people choose to stay poor, or homeless, or drug-addicted. And sometimes that looks to be about as true as it can be.

But then the question I want us to ask, that we have to ask, is, how does it come to be that people are willing to settle for so little? How and when and why is the damage done?

Well, I doubt this will be one of my more-read postings, but I would certainly wish for thoughtful response.


Rachel said...

Michaelann you are very wise.

- michael - said...

Three points to your post:

One is the title: "Not easy being homeless in Springfield." It isn't easy being homeless anywhere.

Two: that the homeless are getting "verbal" bashings on MassLive.

Three: the 20 year old pizza delivery person who was murdered by the 28 year old.

I find it morally reprehensible that the news reports that a 28 year old man (who probably had a place to live) killed a pizza delivery person, yet a bunch of insensitive individuals are going out of their way to make the time to criticize a bunch of homeless people.

Makes me wonder what our priorities as a nation are...

- michael -