Join the Slow Journalism movement. See the world from a 2 mile/hour perspective .
STORIES are everywhere
Are you a walker? I challenge you to find the story of a place. If you find it, it may give you a reason to go on. I found a story as I walked with a group of women on a walking trail in a nearby town. It was a Sunday and near a parking lot the Compassion Highway Project (CHP) was setting up to distribute food and clothing for the homeless. A long line of people, in their twenties and thirties waited patiently. We walked by with our bags full of trash picked up that morning along the walking trail where many of them live. When you’re homeless, you don’t have a trashcan. A man and woman passed us. They smelled and were as dirty as long distance hikers after three weeks on the trail without washing. I wondered when this man and woman would get their next shower, a roof over their head, a bathroom to use? Remembering my long dusty summer hikes, I thought, we all are just one or two major circumstances away from homelessness
My story could end here, a story about compassion and caring for the homeless.
But the story doesn’t end. As we walked along the creek glittering in the late winter sun, Canadian geese rose from the water and flew up to the sky only to land again 10 feet further along the bank. In the Rogue Valley where I live, the Canadian geese don’t migrate. The geese find enough open water and food to stay and survive. They’re called resident Canadian geese. Like the resident geese population, the homeless population has exploded along the greenway that runs north along Bear Creek in our valley. It doesn’t get dangerously cold here in the winter, and every Sunday the CHP distributes free food under the overpass near the creek. Why leave when they hand free food out and you can find shelter in nature? Along the riverbed they erect shanty structures made of plastic and cardboard, a tent here and there, and even a plastic teepee made with poles from the abundant trees that grow along the creek. The teepee has vines growing on its side and an umbrella above the smoke hole to keep out rain. Smoke is rising, it must be warm in the teepee. Along the creek the walkway is littered with garbage, food and drink containers, medical packaging, including needles, and an abandoned shopping cart here and there. Canadian geese can be a nuisance as they produce a copious amount of bodily waste. So is the homeless situation producing a copious amount of garbage (costing $4000 a month to remove it by city patrol I’m told). By giving the homeless food, clothing, and money we inadvertently support the homeless lifestyle. We offer warmed shelters when the nights get below freezing. But we complain about the homeless when we face the results under bridges and along walking paths created for outdoor enjoyment and for exercise.
Maybe this is a story about compassion creating a problem.
A tense debate about the migrant issue is raging in our political world. Shall we call it an emergency? Build a wall? People, like birds, try to survive.
When too many Canadian geese land, a bio mess shows up along our lakes, ponds and rivers. Protected as they are, we can’t shoot them. We’re always lagging with our policies to protect and support vulnerable populations and once we have a policy the slow administrative machine can’t adapt to changes that take place and need attention. So we do what humans with an altruistic bend have always done, we support - temporary and partially - those who are suffering.
Let's give this story a dramatic turn. What if we don’t support them?
Like the birds, the homeless will migrate if there isn‘t enough food and shelter. Humans have migrated as long as they’ve been on the planet. Migration shows the human entrepreneurial spirit and will to survive. Migrants find new opportunities and they integrate in society. What if we stopped dabbing at the wound of homelessness, pooled our resources, paid our share to offer housing, education and training to get the homeless off the street and into a job? What if we accept that a certain group always needs our support to stay alive, a group of people that will never thrive on their own?
The climax of the story: Solve the problem for the long run and take back your backyard
A wall won’t keep migrants out. They’ll climb over, tunnel under or learn to fly like the geese and land where food, water and shelter is available. A program that processes claims for asylum and offers work opportunities, will absorb the flow without creating more misery. Food distributions don’t stop the homeless problem. Food distributions tied to decent shelter and skills training funnels the problem toward solving it. Other countries have shown that this solution works. Government programs and appropriated taxes can solve the homeless problem. If you don’t believe in government programs, I leave you with partial humanitarian dabbing at the wound of homelessness.
The moral of the story found on my walk: homelessness is a complex issue. Complex issues need multi-prong approaches. Round-ups and walls don’t solve the problem.
I hope the story I found along the Greenway will encourage you to act toward clearing up the problem. I hope we can take back our greenway for what it was intended: a place in nature where residents can walk without fear and enjoy nature.