Monday, September 08, 2008

What is Home? And, Why Are There So Many Homeless People?

"I should not be alive!" proclaimed the woman sitting next to me on the steps of the Family Shelter the other day. I had just gotten my children on the school bus that picks them up each morning when this woman came outside to smoke a cigarette. She seemed distressed and wanted to talk, even though we were strangers, so I sat down with her to listen to what she had to say.

"There are many times, I should have died from being beaten up, car accidents, or, but for whatever reason God keeps me alive!" She said between puffs.

"I'm here now because my fiance tried to kill me last night! I had to run to my neighbor's apartment next door to call the police. This is the second time he's done this but this time, I'm not going back."

As she continued talking about her life, I listened in the way I usually do to everyone, detached and non-judging. I always like to hear everything before I make any comments or suggestions. Sometimes, I can tell that people only need to talk things out before deciding to take action on their challenges. Even without any advice from me.

As she sat there with tears in her eyes, she asked the question that I have been wondering about for the past several weeks, "Why are there so many homeless people in this country?"

It's a question that needs to be addressed because it is not restricted to just the transient, often romanticized, hobo subculture, or the bum off the street stereotype. Homelessness affects many, many people of all backgrounds, nationalities, and beliefs.

Women and children, and the elderly, are particularly affected. I don’t know the statistics but I know that my family is just one such statistic. I took a survey recently given by the shelter staff and I was asked why I sought out services from the Family Shelter. I told them that in order to be eligible for all social services, I had to become certifiably homeless. When I was working full-time, making a decent salary, and living in an apartment. I still was not earning enough money to support my family. So, I sought out assistance for us, but I was told that I made too much money to qualify. It was a real dilemma. What was I supposed to do?

And, what does this mean for the United States, supposedly the most powerful country in the world, when there are many hard working people forced on the streets for various reasons, not just the stereotypical ones.

I have been listening to other women here talk about their lives. Women of all colors, ages, and creeds. They cry sometimes and, sometimes...I cry with them.

The Creator has placed me here at this particular time and place for a reason, I realized. If for anything to help me to understand what is happening on all levels with the people around me. I need to experience what this is so that I can be of better service to the people, especially to the children.

It's the children who suffer the most because they need to eat and feel secure, like they have a home.

One day I saw a former colleague in the cafeteria. I tried to tell her about everything that was happening in my life but she turned away and had this funny look in her eye. Then she told me that she would keep this in confidence and would not tell anyone that she saw me in the Family Shelter.

I couldn't help it, I had to laugh. I told her, "You don't have to do that! Everyone knows that I am here! It's no big secret!" (I mean I’m blogging about it for heaven’s sake at this very moment.)

Well, one thing this incident showed me is that there is a stigma attached to being homeless. There is a cloak of shame around the entire subject. Why is it such a taboo subject?

I ponder such things! And then, as a Native woman, I look at it and think that Native people never thought of themselves as homeless! We often packed up and moved the location of our homes because of the need to do so. We were geniuses at mobility.

The women in my tribe owned the homes. We were quite resourceful and always found ways to make things work. Just as I am doing now.

I have never desired to own a home, at least not in the contemporary fashion, but rather I have desired to have a home built that is respectful of our natural surroundings. A home that would be much like what our ancestors lived in, only with a modern twist so to speak. I am determined to make this happen. My dream home.

This dream came about because of a question posed by Daniel Wildcat in an interview that I read in the Winds of Change Magazine in 2005.

Wildcat had this to say: The problem we face today is that the measure of technological progress is often thought of as the extent to which humankind can control and mitigate the so-called forces of nature. I find it hard to imagine a more problematic and dangerous idea. Why not figure out a way to live with nature?

Well, why not? Native people have done so for thousands of years. What is to stop us now from continuing our methods in this so-called modern society? Wouldn’t it be in our best interests to do so? Economically, environmentally, and spiritually?

And, this whole topic begs the question what is home? My friend Christopher Cartmill has been based three of his plays, the Homeland Trilogy, on this very question. He’s very passionate about this concept of what is home and wrote about it from many perspectives.

It 's two blocks from the bus stop to the shelter and takes about five minutes at the most. Last week, while walking the two blocks with two other women. One said conversationally, "I never ever imagined myself walking this f-----g strip in my life!" We all looked at each other and laughed, then the other replied, "None of us did! But here we are!"

Yes, we are here from all walks of life.

We will be getting a house soon. My children and I. A place that we will call home for a time here in Lincoln, Nebraska but I already know that it won't be our last home.