Monday, February 26, 2007

Freedom and respect

When you were a kid, did you ever go to summer camp?

Or, as an adult, have you ever participated in a retreat where you shared a bunkhouse with a group of other people?

Across the years I've done my share of "retreating" and I've bunked with lots of guys in camp settings.

If you've been there, you know the drill.

Everything responds to the schedule.

Lights out at a certain time.

Breakfast, if you intend to eat it, is at the crack of dawn!
Every meal involves waiting in line.
Every meal soon begins to taste the same.

The routine for the days is clearly spelled out--sometimes in triplicate, depending on the mental health of those in charge.

In almost every case there is a good bit of sitting and listening to others talk or teach or tell you what to do or think.

Once you're in the camp, you have to abide by the rules, the process and the "mission" of the week or the weekend.

I have to confess, at around day two I've usually had about enough of such experiences!

I like to go to bed, in my own bed, whenever I choose. I like to get up early, have a cup of coffee, read the paper, meditate a bit or whatever I decide I need to do on a particular day.

Hey, I'm into freedom and choice and self-directed living. How about you?

For some reason my summer camp and adult retreat experiences came rushing back to me last week as I thought about what I should say to a local conference on homelessness. I had been asked to speak to the group about "community" and the challenges of homelessness in Dallas.

People wring their hands a lot in this city about why homeless men and women are so "shelter resistant."

My camping, bunkhouse experience tells me the answer to that question is not rocket science!

Homeless shelters are no more an answer to the housing crisis facing our homeless brothers and sisters than are summer camps or adult retreats an answer to the daily challenges facing me as I live my middle class life!
Both have their place for very short periods of time--you know, in an emergency or for some special reason.

But no one wants to live on someone else's agenda or schedule. No one.
No one can actually consider a bunk bed or a cot "home."

Check me on this, but my favorite time at summer camp or during retreat settings was always "free time." I've never read a retreat or camping evaluation that didn't say something like, "Next year build in more free time!"

Don't ever wonder why people prefer camp grounds under bridges, park benches or down in urban creek beds to shelters. It's all about freedom and maintaining a sense of control over one's life.
Everyone desires freedom and respect.

Any proposed "solution" to the problem of homelessness that does not major on those indispensable values will fail.

This is why we must build more permanent housing.

The answer to the challenges presented by homelessness is not more shelters, social workers or case management, as important all these resources can be.
The answer to homelessness is more homes.


Anonymous said...

Larry I watched the Pursuit of Happyness yesterday, and I was hit with the same realization that you just wrote about. At one point in the movie Will Smith's character and his son had to stay in a homeless shelter. In the homless shelter they turned every light out at a designated time even if you had somethng to do. They also had to turn people away every day. I agree that homeless shelters are not a long term solution to homelessness anywhere. I can even understand why some homeless people turn down going to a shelter, because of the lack of freedom. Humans have a tendency to want to be free to choose their own actions. Taking away homeless people's freedom and treating them with what comes off as a lack of respect is taking away the rest of their limited priviledges. Homes and equipping people for advancement in society are long term solutions to homlessness. Providing them with temporary shelter is important, but it should not come with the loss of freedom or respect.

owldog said...

Oh My Goodness what an epiphany, I get it I get it. I agree. We get our friends their own homes and then they can make a schedule that works for them, some people like to work nights some people like to work days, I always wonder how a person that works at night would be able to sleep during the day in a shelter.

Anonymous said...

I myself am someone who craves a sense of control. I hate doing things when I'm told, I hate waking up at a certain time, or eating at a certain time for that matter. And as much as I loved summer camps growing up, I have to admit that many times the overbearing scheldule was hard to stand. I had never made the connection to the homeless as you have pointed out, yet after reading about it, the realization was clear. If I were homeless, I wouldn't want to live in a shelter either.

Anonymous said...

Larry, I have to agree with your point on control. No one wants to be told what time they should eat, what time they should go to bed, or even when they should wake up. While we all need to have enough responsibility to take care of things, we need to be allowed the freedom to pursue our responsibilities. I also agree that homeless shelters are not a solution to homelessness. Shelters are not a permanent situation, more of an emergency refuge. In order to eliminate homelessness, we need to focus more on the individuals' needs and find ways for better permanent housing.

Justin said...

What if Christians all over this country converted spare rooms in their homes into bedrooms for homeless men and women? Would that not be even better than building public housing for them? Like you said, people want to have freedom over their lives, and being moved around during renovations, being told what apartment one must live in, in what neighborhood, etc is not freedom. When the government gets involved in helping people, I just can't see that freedom is involved.

One of the projects around the corner from my apartment actually bulldozed the run down complex and built wonderful duplexes whose rent is determined by your income. Here's a link to the duplexes

Anyway, I wanted to move into those homes, but I ended up finding a place around the corner that was availible immediately, which was what I needed.

I think more than anything, this will be the answer to cronic poverty and homelessness... (I think its called HOPE VI or something. Its a government program). Anyway, only public housing isn't the answer, because large housing projects quite possibly do more harm than good. I have a friend who used to work in the projects with kids, and he met a teen girl who said that she "can't wait to get an apartment". When he asked her where she wanted to live, her response was the current projects she lived in. That's not what's needed.

Larry James said...

Justin, thanks for the post.

No one is suggesting "public housing projects" here. Though the HOPE VI project your refer to is the new style of public housing.

My point was that shelters create an atmosphere that makes people want to not get involved.

Staying in someone's home can have the same effect on people--it does on me.

Low-income persons simply need options for independent housing that they can pay for either with work or with public benefits. Because these kinds of units don't usually attract for-profit builders--because the margins are too short/slim for them--they require public involvement.

Justin said...

Would you be opposed to someone creating low income housing and making a profit doing it?

I would really like to see a full on proposal for this. Obviously, its a good idea to try and create some sort of public housing for the homeless that isn't like "the projects", but I'm not familiar with any broad ideas on the subject. I would love to hear in detail any of your ideas.

Larry James said...

Justin, great question!

No, I am not at all opposed to developers making a profit by developing affordable housing. Across the nation that is happening, just not often enough, usually because the margins and the ease of development are greater on upper end housing.

At CDM all of our housing developments intend to and our designed around pro formas that plan to make a profit. All of our profit simply goes back into the corporation to build more housing.