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?