Photo by Photographer Laura Burbaite via Flickr Creative Commons

Are You a Good Neighbor? Ask Homeless Advocates

By Paul Thomas Jackson

(Editor’s note: This is the first article of a two-part series.)

“As our Nation struggles to build friendship among the peoples of this world, we are mindful that the noblest human concern is concern for others. Understanding, love and respect build cohesive families and communities. The same bonds cement our Nation and the nations of the world. For most of us, this sense of community is nurtured and expressed in our neighborhoods where we give each other an opportunity to share and feel part of a larger family…I call upon the people of the United States and interested groups and organizations to observe such day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

With these words written by President Jimmy Carter on Sept. 22, 1978, he followed a tradition started by one Becky Mattson of Lakeside, a town of about 2,000 in Montana. The Fresno Homeless Advocates follows the tradition he proclaimed with a proclamation of our own:

Dear Resident of Fresno, California:

We’re proclaiming what a good neighbor is. We, the Fresno Homeless Advocates, proclaim on Good Neighbor Day, 2018, a variety of good things go into being a good neighbor. We see these things as an agglomeration for self-regulation while in public anywhere in the agglomeration that is the burgeoning Fresno Metropolitan area.

Respect yourself, others, and our shared spaces. Within retail establishments, say excuse me or, better, please excuse me before interrupting someone’s apparent path, or someone’s line of sight of an item for sale there. Find your place in conversations with those who welcome it.

Pause before you judge someone by appearance. Don’t assume a person who looks disabled needs your help, but be ready to help if asked. Disabilities can be invisible. And in general, outward appearances can be deceiving in at least two ways: They can reveal little about someone’s experiences, and they can reveal as much about the conditions society has created for a person as the person has created. A judgment of someone by appearance alone is prone to error.

Be courteous in public. Always respect the spaces we share with one another, and everyone in it—including yourself. Hold the doors of an elevator for others before you board. If possible, avoid phone conversations while aboard an elevator. If standing near the buttons while aboard an elevator with other people, ask, Should I hit a floor for you? Offer your seat on a bus to an elderly or frail person who needs it. Say thank you whenever someone does an act affirming your membership in the community, and as appropriate. The word please normally precedes the first few requests someone makes in conversation, so please excuse us for not saying please before asking you to do these things and more to come.

Respect other cultures in Fresno. Living in a multicultural society as we do, be willing to listen and learn something about another’s culture. If sharing something about your own culture, speak in turn. Reciprocate respect. Seek mutual respect, if only because the Nation’s greatness depends in part on its many immigrants and Fresno is a cherished “immigrant gateway.” Consider attending the annual Tamejavi festival or an event of the Interfaith Alliance of Central California or of Services, Immigration Rights and Education Network (SIREN).

Respect people of other faiths and of no faith. If you espouse a faith, feel free to speak from the heart to anyone who willingly listens. And if you hear another speak on her or his faith and aren’t interested, simply turn away. Consider how Fresno is much more oriented to various faiths than is the average city, and how you can show respect, even polite interest to people of other faiths. Also, do respect those who espouse no faith.

Be safe and courteous on the streets of Fresno. Look both ways before crossing an intersection, whether walking or driving. And as a pedestrian, stand back from the curb’s edge at an intersection while the signal is red. Remember to signal to other drivers your intended change in lanes, even if they forget to follow this safety measure, which is legally required continuously over the last 100 feet before you change lanes. Replace the “rage” on Fresno’s “roads” with a good sense of safety, even courtesy. And please don’t punish others for signaling by cutting them off.

Respect others’ use of public places. Whatever your beliefs, turn off the phone in places such as a church, temple, or theater. End phone conversations when making purchases. And when you do use your cellphone, don’t shout. Don’t stop to text or check e-mail, especially at a building entrance. Keep moving on a public sidewalk, and share it with those who have a fundamental right to be there without interfering in your necessary use of it.

Be considerate of your neighbors. At home, hand-deliver mail arriving in your mailbox whenever addressed to a neighbor living within 50 feet and wrongly put in your mailbox. Accept mail hand-delivered by a neighbor, thank the neighbor, and promptly notify USPS of any correction needed for future delivery to the proper address. Go tell a neighbor if an obvious problem exists, such as a light remaining on in the neighbor’s car, long after it’s parked. Except when it’s clearly unwanted “junk mail,” use improper mail deliveries as an opportunity to meet your neighbors at their front doors for a few minutes at a time.

Help improve your neighborhood. In general, use government as a partner in bettering your neighborhood and community. For example, only tell a neighbor politely his front yard could use some professional attention, and offer it for a reasonable fee. And if yours is that yard, do what you can about it and consider hiring a neighbor’s child to help. Bartering is also a practice of good neighbors. In any event, don’t burn bridges that you may need to cross someday.

Help improve your community. Don’t lean on government unless you are experiencing a short-term crisis that calls for resolution by government. Participate in community conversations and efforts to organize the Fresno community for its betterment. Spend some time with your neighbors and listen closely to them.

Help your community. If you have spare time, consider devoting some of it regularly to be a mentor at your local high school, a literacy tutor with Fresno County, or a court-appointed special advocate. If you have musical knowledge and ability, consider teaching music to underprivileged children with MusicLink Foundation. In a city beset with homelessness on a scale as large as Fresno’s, consider how it affects the quality of life of all. And consider the importance of participating in dialogue to help bring about a home-full community offering humane solutions to your homeless neighbors. Consider participating in this dialogue through an organization such as the Fresno Homeless Advocates.

*****

Paul Thomas Jackson prepared the claims that paved the way for the homeless lawsuit that in 2008 settled for $2.35 million. He is now the secretary of the Fresno Homeless Advocates (FHA). He is also its acting social media director, playing a key role in its Facebook group of more than 500 members. The FHA regularly meets at 6 p.m. on the third Sunday of the month. Notice is posted on the wall of the Facebook group.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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