This will sound strange, possibly even a bit comical to people like me who've just not thought about it; but the most routine problem we face at CityWalk at Akard (our Downtown building that provides high-quality, affordable housing for working people and formerly homeless neighbors) involves forgotten keys.
That's right, forgotten keys.
People are constantly forgetting to carry their keys with them when they leave their apartments. As a result, it seems someone is always locked out of an apartment.
It can be a real aggravation for everyone.
Of course, the tenant who's locked out is not happy. After hours, the problem is magnified due to security concerns at the front desk. The night watchman cannot leave his/her post. Often the remedy to the crisis involves a call to the fire department and a damaged lock set or worse, door and door facing.
I unlocked a door earlier this week before leaving the building at the end of the day.
Why is this so hard for people?
Why don't they carry their keys?
Why do they forget them so often?
The answer hit me in the wee hours.
People who've not had a home for a long time aren't accustomed to thinking in terms of keys or locks. Their world has been defined by large open sleeping areas with lots of other people where there is little privacy. Their experience is all about someone else controlling the keys either to lock them in or to lock them out.
If you sleep behind a building in the "shelter" of an ally, up against a wall, you have no use for a key. You don't think about a key.
We usually regard the aggravating nuisance of lost keys as an example of irresponsibility. There may be some of that involved. But I'm convinced it's a much deeper issue. It's about settling in at last. It's about coming to terms with housing as a new, permanent fact of life for folks who'd forgotten all about having a home of one's own.
Forgetting keys is just a normal marker on the way to new life.
I believe folks who forget their keys don't need scolding. They need a cup of coffee and a conversation about the real meaning of a key. I have a hunch conversations like that would help. Most would lead to lots of smiles and maybe a few tears of relief.
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Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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