In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015.
How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached.
Words to live by.
Love is the threshold of another universe.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
We only have to look around us to see how complexity and psychic temperature are still rising: and rising no longer on the scale of the individual but now on that of the planet.
A universal love is not only psychologically possible; it is the only complete and final way in which we are able to love.
One of my buddies lived in a rough part of town. A blue collar guy. A big, burly factory machinist who rides a motorcycle. He was home alone one day, taking a shower, when he heard some noise out in his living room. Someone was rummaging through his shit, knocking stuff over. Clearly a break-in.
He didn’t have time to think so he jumped out of the shower and grabbed the nearest weapon. A hammer that was on his dresser in the bedroom. He ran out into the living room all naked and hairy and wet, grunting while waving the hammer over his head like he was going to smash the guy’s skull.
The dude was terrified. A young-ish inner city thug. The kid took off running and screaming. Didn’t get a chance to steal anything. Huge win for my buddy.
Moral of the story: no matter your lot in life, don’t fuck with other peoples’ shit.
I talked a little about this topic a couple months ago. Abundance and lack. But today, I was thinking about it a little bit differently.
Imagine a small rural town of 100 people or so. The kind of place with a one stoplight and a business or two. The families who live there maybe have farmland or they drive to work in the nearest city.
Now imagine one of the children in that town starts showing symptoms of schizophrenia as a teenager. A family of three – the parents and this kid. The parents don’t know better, so this mental illness is left untreated. Perhaps the family can’t cope. They give up. Eventually that kid grows up and tries to start a life of his own.
So anyway, now you have a man who can’t take care of himself. He’s old enough that his parents pass away. He’s 40 now. He can’t maintain the appearance of sanity for any stretch long enough to hold down a job. He loses his apartment. He has no other choice than to sleep on the bench outside the gas station at that one stoplight in town. That first night is rough and confusing and hopeless. Day one of homelessness.
Do you think the people who live there walk right by him? Do they ignore him? Are they annoyed that they are forced to see his sad dirty face that next morning as they’re gassing up their cars? Does the gas station attendant shoo him away? “Go somewhere else!”
Maybe. I really don’t know. But my gut tells me someone, or everyone, helps this guy out in that situation. They offer him a place to sleep. Someone recognizes he needs to see a doctor. Someone has mercy for this poor guy and gives him a lift to the city where hopefully he can get some assistance, some medical care. I don’t know. But I hope that’s what happens.
What I do know is that’s not what happens here in Philly. In a city where hundreds of thousands of people (or maybe more than a million) work every day. How many homeless people do you think there are here? Hundreds? Maybe more than a thousand? I looked it up. There are more than 12,000 homeless people in this city.
And what happens to those people? They’re a nuisance. They’re ignored. It was 25 degrees outside a few days ago. And I saw the same homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks the next morning. They’re just there. “Can I get some money for something to eat?” That phrase we hear several times a day. It’s an annoyance. The phrase itself, the request – that’s the problem to most people. It’s too much effort to even respond with a “no”. Instead, we look straight ahead and keep walking.
I don’t know what I think we should do. But it doesn’t seem like what we’re doing now is the right thing.
And I know this is just one problem. 12,000 suffering people. Maybe we’re not helping them because we’re focused on solving bigger problems. Maybe we’re actively helping to fund books and supplies for underprivileged kids who couldn’t otherwise have the bare minimums for public school. Maybe we’re volunteering at a shelter for battered women to help get them on their own two feet. Maybe we’re offering companionship at a hospice center to people without families.
Or maybe we’re watching TV. And playing with our phones. And updating our fantasy football rosters.
I really don’t know. But it seems like we should be doing something. Anything.
In college, I studied film criticism more or less. I took classes like Screenwriting, Hitchcock, and French New Wave. My major was called Film Studies.
In one of my classes – Sophomore year I think – the professor wanted us to get in touch with our inner creative voice. He started things off by explaining how everyone is influenced by their own personal background. How everyone brings into every interaction their own baggage. Things like race and gender and class and personal prejudices, etc.
Our task was to look into ourselves and think about how our own experiences defined us. And then deliver a creative assignment illustrating that. It could be a short story or a screenplay or something visual. I decided to make a short film – well, a video.
The problem is, I looked at myself as a white, male, middle class, college student from the suburbs. How could my perspective possibly be anything other than “embarrassingly normal”? What could I possibly have to say? That’s the problem you run into when you ask a young person to define himself.
I didn’t solve the problem. Instead, I focused the piece on my Scottish/English ancestry and how that influenced me. In reality, I think there were a hundred or even a thousand other things that made much more of an impact on my character. I was just too shortsighted to see it. I was not self aware. I turned in the project and was graded accordingly. No harm done.
But I think back to that assignment from time to time. Since then, I’ve become painfully self aware. I constantly think about why I react the way I do to certain things. What baggage am I bringing into relationships? Am I an asshole? Am I pretentious? Am I acting like a loving husband/father/worker? My thoughts are often filled with these kind of navel-gazing ponderings. And I think it’s healthy. I want to make a positive impact whenever possible. And when I fuck up, I want to feel it, and hopefully make up for it.
And even more interesting to me, when I look back on that assignment I see a 19-year-old kid who was quite unusual. I brought a ton of baggage into every interaction. I was not, even as a white, middle class male, a “normal” kid. I was vegetarian, agnostic, into psychedelics and pot, Libertarian, skinny, Floridian, wild-haired, into punk rock, artsy, alcoholic, the list goes on and on. If I could go back in time, I could coach that kid into delivering one hell of a short film. All that angst and energy could have been focused into something visceral and wonderful.
But we learn. Time goes on. We gain perspective and focus. And sometimes we end up all right in the end.