Friday, October 06, 2006

Guest blog on Shelter situation

The following post is by my good friend Lynn Heuss.


Going for a bike ride often presents me with an opportunity to think. Last Saturday was a beautiful day, and I went for a ride from downtown Des Moines to Cumming. As I was riding, I remembered a time I had been with a friend and we had stopped to pick (and eat) wild berries along the same trail. The reason we were able to do so was because my friend knew where and what to look for. Had I been by myself, I would have missed the opportunity. Sometimes this same friend has grabbed other kinds of plants (that look like weeds to me) and eaten them. I’m pretty sure they were a legitimate source of food, but I have to admit I’ve had my doubts. If nothing else, I look back on some of those experiences and it makes me smile to remember. Humor is a gift between friends too.

Part of the reason I told this story was because it shows (in a small way in this case) the value and importance of friendship and connection to a community made up of family, co-workers and friends.

That is not the case with so many in the homeless community. Many end up homeless because they have lost all connection to whatever community, or support network they had. While no one can make those kinds of connections for another person, we can work to provide other resources – at least the basics needed to survive.

The proposed location for the Shelter has created an outcry against it by some of the local neighborhood associations. And I don’t get it -- especially when the arguments follow this pattern. A woman at the City Council meeting said, “I am a good Christian woman and I want those people to be taken care of, but…..” I can guarantee you that nearly every time someone begins a statement with “I am a Christian, but,” the “but” is going to be nothing about the kind of Christianity that Jesus actually called people to live into. It will be some kind of bullshit statement that is based on unfounded fears. (I have a bachelor’s degree in Religion and a nearly completed Masters in Theology, so I can say “Jesus” and “bullshit” in the same sentence. Especially when I’m pretty sure he might have wanted to say the same thing about some of the reasons that were given.)

Bad things happen all over our city, in all of our neighborhoods. The homeless population doesn’t have the corner on the market. Maybe if we spent more time being actual neighbors rather than just a member of a neighborhood association, we’d dispel some of the fear that can be created when faced with a population we don’t understand. The Register had a good editorial about the Shelter yesterday. I hope you’ll read it and consider what you might do to help make it a reality.


Bob said...

LEt me preface this by saying that this is the shelter I volunteer at. I picked this one over the others. I picked it because it is the shelter of last resort, they will take anyone, high, drunk, child-molester, anyone. They need my time more than the other shelters.

Having said that, this is the one shelter I would not want in my neighborhood. Why? The same reason I chose this one to volunteer at. It is the shelter of last resort. The people coming there have likely been turned away from the other shelters for some reason or another. I do understand the trepidations of the neighbors. It's a difficult position to be placed in for everyone involved. It's easy for us to judge the neighbors as unchristianly when we aren't faced with that same set of circumstances, and probably never will be since we make enough money to live in areas of town that this wouldn't even be a consideration.

Good post, though.

And don't eat the berries along the bike trail, deer poop and pee while moving, and it gets all over the place.

Lynn Heuss said...

Before I worked with Ed Fallon in his campaign for governor, I was director of a free meal program for the homeless, low-income and working poor. And I have no problem knowing the Shelter may be close to my neighborhood (Sherman Hills).

When I said we needed to spend time getting to know people, I meant it. That's the key. However, I'm not so naive' as to say that is the answer to all the problems, but it helps a great deal.

It takes a long time for many of the folks who live in shelters or river camps to trust anyone. They're great con artists. They live by survival of the strongest and don't have the same scruples many folks embrace. But those are characteristics that I believe are created out of that need to survive, not by volitional choice. Once you do spend time listening to their stories, and giving them time, they will eventually trust you. And frankly, often their loyalty is stronger because they recognize where their help is coming from.

Many of the people aren't at the shelter of "last resort" because no place else will take them -- we simply do not have enough crisis or transitional housing.

The one thing I do concede to is the need for adequate security -- for the guests at the Shelter AND for the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. But that means the Shelter should have a line-item budget to to hire several people to fill that role. And they should be paid a fair and liveable wage. They should also be trained in non-violent mediation, and there should be diversity in these positions, i.e. men/women, different races/languages.

I always appreciate good dialogue about difficult problems -- thanks you. And I am grateful to know that a committee has been formed to continue to look into this need.

Nicolai said...

Great post, Lynn.

On a related note, during my homeless "experiment" in 2004, I once went to a christian church because it was below freezing and I was desperate. There was a sign that said homeless people were not allowed and to go away.

It's interesting to see christians fear things in the real world like poverty and Imminent Danger (tm). If they truly believed in salvation, why fret over something that might drive down their property value a smidgen? (Really, think about it: why?)

Religion is a tool used to justify slavery, terrorism, and genocide.

I think it's time to stop giving religion respect it doesn't deserve. Religionists have had thousands of years to learn basic decency such as, don't kill people, or be a party to violence. But they have failed on the mass scale.