It has been a long while since I last wrote a blog. I am going to attempt a short one just to get back into the habit of doing them. Right now, I am as busy as I have ever been, and I still have tons of stuff to learn. I feel as if I have a mountain of reading to do. It seems as though I am back in college! Honestly, I would not want it any other way. I love the work and the study. Maybe my blogs will be like my papers.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
I work at Social Services of Blessed Sacrament. We operate a drop-in center which simply means people living on the streets or with little to no income find food, showers, clothes, a place to hang out, and people to hang out with in the confines of our little building
converted from a convent. Our operations look messy. Many people living on the street function like everyday people. They feel down on their luck, they cannot find jobs or affordable housing, and sometimes they cannot remember life off the street. Lots of these folks come to the center. Nevertheless, many people living on the streets are not so simple. These folks suffer from debilitating mental health conditions, severe drug abuse problems (i.e. crystal meth, heroine, cocaine, etc.), terrifying histories of sexual and physical violence, and the sense of uselessness that comes with being looked at as less than human. While walking down the street, you may or may not recognize these types of people. It is difficult even noticing them, but imagine congregating them into a small space where all their rough edges bump up against each other. That is exactly what we do at Blessed Sac. It can get crazy.
When I watch and talk to the folks at work, I try to hear their narrative. I listen as they tell me the critical points at which they slowly slipped into drug abuse, a destabilizing
mental health condition, and/or homelessness. As I listen, one thing becomes clear: the system and their communities failed them. Oftentimes, people rationalize their lack of empathy for those on the street by categorizing them as drug abusers or “crazy”. This attitude excuses homelessness as a justified punishment for their “sins” as though people who do drugs or suffer from paranoid schizophrenia belong on the streets. The notion that some people deserve homes while others do not may be the largest cultural lie perpetuated in society. This simple denial of the truth, that more drug use occurs in the homes of the elite than in the encampments of those on the streets and more medication for mental health conditions is consumed by the rich than the poor, reveals why people actually exercise the debauchedness of thought which justifies homelessness.
Somewhere along the way, those who come to Blessed Sac lost their housing and could not get it back. By plain deduction, we know something wrong happened. Why does our system even allow people to lose their houses? As a side note, to Christians, are you really loving your neighbor when you watch your neighbors being evicted while you save for retirement? The problem and the sickness that enables homelessness derives from every piece of our society. First, our system allows real estate speculation. This causes artificial property value inflation (also known as gentrification). Of course, the state does nothing against this since it also produces higher property taxes. As property values increase, people living on fixed incomes, like those who cannot work due to their debilitating mental health conditions, come up short on the rent. We live in a world in which alcohol flows abundantly. Liquor stores populate the street corners in low income neighborhoods. Beer commercials proliferate during television programs viewed by the poor (i.e. sports). Combine the commercialized branding of alcoholism with low incomes and raising rent prices, and it becomes no wonder people end up on the streets buried under booze.
Something even more demonic pervades our system: the patriotic rallying cry of the state to fight and die in order to protect the economic interests of the elite. This patriotism shadows the military-industrial complex and immunizes the U.S. public to a military budget over seven times greater than the next highest defense budget. Even more filthy is the media valorization of killing in movies, video games, and military ad campaigns. What they fail to indicate is the serious physical and mental health risks of becoming a trained killer sent into battle. Consequentially, thousands of people return from war unable to reintegrate into a society where killing humans is wrong despite being trained for years to kill other people. They return from war mentally or physically damaged. Against all reason, presidents and congresspeople still send them to fight and die while trumping up U.S. military might and power. It sends the message that the U.S. is not to be challenged. To do so is to invite death.
This is exactly why people justify homelessness. After 9/11 Bush told people to shop. He implied that if people did not continue to possess and consume, their lives were at risk. Thus, people maintain the system and the status quo out of fear. When we see people living on the street, we see, subconsciously or consciously, a failure of the system. In order to truly care for these folks, we must stand up against a system that allows homelessness. Nonetheless, our cultural training prevents us from such an act of rebellion. It would require us to save when the president says buy, to love when the military says hate, to care when the TV says be apathetic, to cook when McDonald’s says eat out, to grow food when Amazon.com says order it online, to create when Hollywood says watch, and to love our neighbors when advertisements tell you to look out only for yourself.
Those living on the streets reveal the failure of the system. We buck against its injustice, and we create cultural myths that excuse or blame them for their predicament. People on the street silently prophesy to our sick, crazy culture. They unveil the demons driving our
sick system. Many people at Blessed Sac might be considered “crazy”, but let me ask, who are the real crazy ones? Is it not the wealthy elite who think their voracious consumption is limitless? Is it not the state leaders who use violence to ensure economic prosperity for the few? Is it not those who drive the government $14 trillion into debt yet still perpetuate the idea that this is not a big deal? Is it not the military-industrial complex that makes tools for death widely available to nations around the world? Is it not those who sit at the helm of a nuclear weapons cache large enough to destroy all life on earth several times over for the sake of “defense”? Is it not the big banks who gave out sub-prime loans for the sake of absurd profit? Is it not the pundits who claim we live in a post-racial society while 1 in 4 African American males go to prison sometime in their lives? These are the crazy people.
At Blessed Sac, I no longer see “drug addicts” or “the mentally ill”; I see human beings. These human beings suffered betrayal from the very neighbors they relied upon, the neighbors you rely upon, and the neighbors I rely upon. They are not the crazy ones. They are the wounded and the victims. True healing will come when we consciously decide to listen to their needs and resist the system that wounded them. We must then create a new way of life, a way of life built on compassion and cooperation rather than violence and competition. We need a sane society.