Friday, April 16, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Stealing Homes from the Homeless

I'm going to jump to a conclusion here because it's fun and it's what I do best. After I jump to the conclusion, I'll actually do some research on the subject and clear up any fallacies in a later post.  

The conclusion:  someone--the city or a business--stole Diane's house.  

I want to Act Now and Raise Hell. I want to find the person(s) in charge and Rip Them A New One (you'll have to forgive the capital letters in inappropriate places. Someone else was doing it and it really slayed me so I'm doing it when I feel like it.) Who do they think they are? That's what I'd ask them. Ok, I'd ask that first and then I'd fill a glove with a brick and slap them till the brick became dust. I'd shake out the bits as I held the glove by its fingers while I tapped my foot and waited for an explanation or some sort of retaliation.  

Whatever their answer, it won't satisfy me--well, that is unless the reason was that Diane's house was placed over nuclear waste or something. Then I'd see their reasoning and have to concede that it was in her best interest.

As it is, Diane has no home. She had no home before, then, someone gave her one, and now it's gone.

Diane lives on a bench near a parking lot that serves a row of businesses on Demonbreun street in Nashville. Every day I drive by the bench a few times during my comings and goings and I look for her, to make sure she's still alive and kicking. Often she's got her broom out and is sweeping up the gutters in the area or she's standing sentinel over the parking lot, guarding the cars while patrons shop at the boutiques or eat at Otters. She never begs. She maintains a quiet dignity and minds her own business.  She wears black and brown leisure suits with heeled boots. Sometimes I see her reading the paper or blowing smoke into the air with her head tilted back. Typically she wears some kind of hat, and in winter she dons ear-muffs.  

In short, I love her. She's become dear to me simply through seeing her there every day and feeling like I know her. I try to stop and visit her as often as I can.  She never asks for anything.  She greets me like we're old friends, asks, "What's up," and appears to remember the sundry things I tell her about my life. If I give her anything, she always asks if I can afford it and appears hesitant to take something if she has nothing to give back. She has a beautiful smile and weathered skin that fans at her eyes into delightful laugh-lines.  

I have longed and wished to be able to take better care of her. I've imagined countless scenarios of adopting her or finding a place for her to live. These, you might say, are prayers. The day I drove by and saw that the blue tarp with which she covered herself at night was now draped over the trailer hitch of a camper, some sort of new hope for humanity bloomed in my heart. I shared the news with Stoker and he told me that one of his clients who also takes care of her had mentioned that she had a camper. The client had been inside it and told Stoker about its condition and how Diane planned to fix it up. Apparently some good Samaritan in town gave it to her--it had just been sitting in his back yard collecting dust, he said. So he GAVE her the camper.

You know what this means, of course? It means that we who live in the city are not completely unaware of those around us who suffer. It means that we can be a community. It means that we can share and help shoulder the burdens of our neighbors as long as we know who suffers. It means that we don't require the government to force us to give. It means that people are Good. It means there is Hope for us.  

It means a whole lot more. Knowing that others care for Diane really buoyed me up. I worry about her on rainy nights. I worry about her on cold nights. I worry about her on warm nights. I worry about her in the crushing heat and humidity. I can't do it all by myself. That there are others who assist her means she's not really alone.  

The camper was simply an awesome thing. I asked her if anyone was giving her trouble about it being in the parking lot. She told me the parking lot is essentially hers. She takes care of it. "After all I do for it, guarding it, keeping it running, they can't give me trouble." But apparently they do. They must have given her trouble. A few days later, it had been moved out of the little fenced area by the small nondescript building on the far side of the parking lot.  

Today it's gone and the whole area has a new fence. I can't see the camper anywhere.  

It's like they've declared war on her. To me. Do I overreact? Maybe. I don't know who They is. I don't know who could have such a cold heart that they'd erect a new fence just to keep Diane away. Does she really harm the parking lot? She doesn't steal from the pedestrians. She has class and grace. Do the businesses heedlessly worry that Diane discourages customers? She's not panhandling. After speaking with the clerks in the boutiques, I have gathered that they help take care of Diane and care about her.  

She belongs to us. I'm not the only one who loves her and who worries about her welfare. I suppose the social workers of the government tell us not to help the homeless. They claim we simply enable them. "There are social programs to help them. There are official avenues they can take to get help. There's the Rescue Mission over on LaFayette." Blah blah blah. So I should wash my hands of it. I should turn away from them. I should ignore them. I should feel exonerated to keep my money pocketed and pretend to not hear their pleas.

I don't feel exonerated when I ignore them. I feel like a liar. A cheat. Someone who worships money and wealth. I used to be stingy about it. I got so overwhelmed with the number of requests upon moving to Nashville that I DID feel exonerated when I read the newspaper article encouraging me to ignore the beggars. But as I have come to realize, we are all beggars.  

Let me use Christ as an example. He did not say to only give to the people who actually really do need it: the people who are just down on their luck for a short spell; the people who are generally useful to society but are under extenuating circumstances right now; the people who don't spend the money on beer or liquor. Give to everyone. It may not change them, it changes you. It shows that your heart is not set on riches or the things of this world that turn to dust, that have no life, that give no love.  

And who are we to judge? If you give when you can, indiscriminately, to the people who ask, then you never take the chance that the one you just turned away was really down on their luck, at wits end, about to jump off a bridge if someone somewhere didn't show them some type of kindness. If you always give, God, the Universe, Karma, whoever or whatever it is you believe in knows that you are always to be trusted. That you are one person in the sea of faces who can be the answer to someone else's need or prayer.  

The social workers will not tell us this. Their job is to take this responsibility from us, from the community. It's better for them if we are distanced from the many faces of those around us who suffer and need our help. It makes the government the answer to all our problems, instead of strengthening the community by making us feel like we are Part of Something Bigger than Ourselves. And I truly think that this unravels the fabric of our community.  

The knowledge that others were taking care of Diane made me feel like I was a Part of Something. I still feel that way. And I feel more than ever that she is someone I will fight for.  

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