A few months ago, someone donated 14 brand new chairs to Bethesda Cares. As the UPS guy ferried box after box into our Drop-In Lobby, I went over to inspect them. Some assembly required, I saw. Ugh. I had a feeling I was headed for allen-wrench city.
Shrugging, I started ripping open boxes and laying out parts. One client, a man who sleeps in a garage, asked if I needed help, just as another client jumped up, nodding.
“Let’s get this done,” the second man said, and within minutes, four clients were busily organizing an efficient little chair-assembly line.
“Homeless people are lazy and just don’t want to work.”
That judgmental little humdinger came from the mouth of an eight-year-old boy, during a discussion I was leading at his school a few days ago. Even some of the other children looked shocked.
I answered in as even a tone as I could muster: “Well, I know some people with homes who are lazy and just don’t want to work.” Then I discussed the actual reasons that people become homeless, like inadequate income even if you are working, or trying to get away from a dreadful home life, or dealing with substance abuse problems, or mental illness. I talked about how difficult it is to hold down a job when you have to carry everything you own with you each day, and when you don’t ready access to a shower, a fresh set of clothes or even an alarm clock.
I omitted my personal opinion as to his particular worldview, on the grounds that, well, he’sis a child and I’m (clearly) not his mom.
Like, people suffering homeless are just sitting around for the heck of it.
“Lazy” is completely the opposite of what I see at Bethesda Cares. I see people using incredible amounts of energy just to survive, deeply concerned about their futures. I see the amount of time it takes to access services, as they try to better their situations. I see the efforts they must make to even understand the range of options available to them.
I see people who miss having the luxury of doing something positive and constructive with their time. I see people who miss their old jobs, hobbies and the other pursuits that let us enrich our lives, like the simple satisfaction of assembling a chair.
To me, from the outside, homelessness looks like a devastating emotional roller coaster, an existence in which a person must shift between foxhole-levels of vigilance, if he wants to try to sleep, and utter boredom, as he sits and waits for his turn with a caseworker (who’ll help him fill out a 16 page housing referral), waits for a bus to go talk to Social Security, waits for the housing referral to come through. Add to that the exquisite tension of daring to hope, as he starts to walk to the path out of homelessness….
No. Not “lazy.”
In my view, anyone someone suffering the misery of homelessness, who still walks into our offices and keeps reaching for a return to normalcy, is the opposite of lazy.
I guess the other elephant in the room that is this blog post is what I’ve wondered for several days: from where, from whom, did this child get his worldview?