Sunday, November 13, 2011

Housing success

Another old friend from homeless-rights activism is moving indoors, with mixed feelings.

I used to work, and then volunteered, for a legal aid nonprofit focused on homelessness. At the end of each case, we filled out closing sheets that were tallied in reports to the grantmakers. About the best thing we could report was a "housing success": that a client who had been homeless or about to lose a home at the start of the case was now securely housed. Our legal work would get the credit for that. Sometimes that was fair. Sometimes really the client deserved the credit for the success. Sometimes it wasn't a thing you'd fairly term a success, it was just what happened to happen.

Here's the thing: everybody I've known well who has moved indoors has appreciated the hot water and electricity and reliably locking doors and so on but has felt regrets in some other way. The building is too crowded, or the neighbors or roommates are difficult, or there's a self-righteous front desk, or there's nowhere for a dog to run, or the new place is genuinely nice but it's miles and miles from the ocean...

Especially true, of course, where "homelessness" didn't mean hard-core pavement sleeping but something more livable like an RV.

There's this disconnect in public perception, this tendency to view homelessness as a condition of life impossibly distant from housed status. In fact, it's a label for one section of the range of kinds of housing status.

Very generally speaking, liberals tend to assume any form of conventional housing beats any form of homelessness, which I strongly suspect is hooey, though I don't really know first-hand. Conservatives tend to understand that some kinds of homelessness beat some forms of housing, but instead of progressing from there to fellow-feeling, they flip over to jealousy: "How dare you live in an RV by the waterfront when I live in an underwater tract house in Tracy? You should have to live in a debtors' prison in Tracy!"

Hey. People live in different ways. People shouldn't have to live in some of the ways people end up living. But (OK, I say this from indoors), that doesn't make people's experiences completely alien to each other, does it?

1 comment:

  1. Considering that I am the "old friend" mentioned at the start, my kudos to Martha for airing this subject could be considered suspect, but too bad. I applaud her efforts over many years to help many people; I venture to predict she will help many more, be it through this blog or just through living the kind of "participation" life that she leads. Her point regarding peoples experiences is well taken; we are all closer (as in similar) than we probably want to believe. Despite my strong belief that I am a unique individual and will view/react/contemplate my experiences in my own personal way, I KNOW that they are in-common with eveyone elses' in essence: we live in the same world, all grow old, all love, hate, live (inside or out)one way or another, the best we can. Doesn't sound very alien, does it?