Everybody Is a Star Rising Above Their Social Condition

Everybody Is a Star Rising Above Their Social Condition

Some homeless man says, “You label me, you negate me,”

echoing the premier Existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard.

He articulates, “You may be tempted to hate me

for being homeless and since my life, like yours, is hard.”

The sorry fellow can shame as well as fascinate me,

recounting the tragic story in which he starred.

The comforting belief you could have picked him

in a police lineup isn’t, you know, always true.

(Unsure which one he is if circumstances tricked him,

but sure he is close and, after all, could be you.)

Too many of us are prone to blame the victim

if we lack insight and don’t know what else to do.

Is anyone an island? Never needing help from someone? 

“You are never strong enough where you don’t,” 

said Cesar Chavez, inspiring victories still hard won.

For having left some out, how shall we have atoned?

How will we serve so many when we’ve just begun?

If we fail to truly live in community, we won’t.

The cards the angels dealt some from the deck

left them few choices, incurring homelessness,

like an albatross hanging round their neck.

Escape is near impossible and through duress.

Tragedy befell them, devouring their paycheck.

It left them no pot to piss in, in a mess.

Do you assume they belong in a facility?

The call requires professional judgment

to meet each one’s needs and respect their autonomy.

Underserved today, they face begrudgement.

Unsheltered folks, at least the great majority,

do as they feel they must in their daily adjustment.

They didn’t set out in life to make such a scandal.

The scandal is ours in homelessness prevention;

unwished for while in their mothers’ dandle.

 “The homeless” didn’t hold a convention

wherein they appointed some thief, thug, or vandal

to go to your alley, biz, or home with evil intention!

Like it or not, Fresno isn’t only our but also their city.

They’re under Nature’s law, elemental curfew.

Destitute, they live under forced mobility

for lack of dialogue between me and you,

steeped in our comforts and individuality

but afforded no convenient venue.

They’re also persons under the law of the land,

which doesn’t guarantee them living quarters.

At some point in their lives, most had

early trauma and substance use disorder,

factors predisposing one, you’ll understand,

to homelessness of the poor lodger or boarder.

“Trust is built on dialogue,” wrote Paulo de Freire,

known for the Brazilian students he liberated.

Not only is our homeless neighbor a beneficiary

but so are we all when dialogue is consecrated, 

when contributions thereto aren’t extemporary

but the speakers are well facilitated.

Rights (a liberal mantra) come with responsibility,

said the late civil rights activist Maya Angelou

who in her life knew triumph and tragedy;

and knew that as a basic proposition to pursue

through moral dialogue seeking greater clarity

how we all shall live in justice by our values.

The man—who, no matter how morally unworthy

he’s been, is moving to become better—is a good man,

wrote Dewey, known for social philosophy.

Homelessness is a nadir in one’s lifespan

and not a lens through which to clearly see

one’s life, but a community checkup scan.

A city government’s historic role is to “fight crime”

support business, and “make our streets cleaner.”

Local government’s proper role in our dialogue

is not that of commander but convener:

To yield the floor to all except the demagogue,

and maintain egalitarian demeanor.

All Fresnans, all who add to our community, 

belong to it and deserve housing!

Unsheltered people don’t need our pity

nor judgment on their carousing.

They’re in mortal danger, and so are gritty;

and need more than socks, toothpaste, and delousing.

“The cry of the poor,” said Howard Zinn,

“is not always just.” But if you don’t lend an ear,

he said you won’t hear justice above the din

of the culture war fought less in truth than fear.

A chronic substance user is not a libertine

but a person whose life is sad and austere.

How justice is to be realized in Fresno

lies within each community member’s heart.

Though many an intellect quickly says no,

it’s heard in dialogue in which each takes part,

and in which people in homelessness know

they’ve been heard on their experiences as smart.

Everybody is a star, and many feel henpecked

by four decades of growing homelessness.

Neglect of this, as other communities, is the subject.

“Never forget that,” declares professor Cornel West, 

“justice is what love looks like in public.”

Does our community pass his Civics test?


  • Paul Thomas Jackson

    Paul Thomas Jackson is secretary of the Fresno Homeless Advocates (FHA), a voluntary association whose active members pursue the interest we share in a philosophy of community. Each of us on our own time also does tangible things for people experiencing homelessness. Membership in FHA is open to anyone demonstrating a serious interest in homeless advocacy. FHA has a public group on Facebook that is a broad forum for discussion.

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Michael Schaaf
Michael Schaaf
6 months ago

Many worthy lines. Thank you.

Kent Barr
Kent Barr
6 months ago

Really good heartfelt message Paul. I agee with the sentiment. I have spent the last 40 years helping people avoid homelessness.

TJ Johnston
5 months ago

Street Sheet, a homeless newspaper in San Francisco, is interested in running this poem for our January poetry edition. If the author is interested, could they respond to us at streetsheetsf@gmail.com or (415) 346-3740 ext. 309? Thanks.

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