Note, May 7, 2013: Please see the deeply insightful comment by Charis responding to my witnessing of her interaction with the “two-year-old” homeless man below.
Yesterday, in front of the library, I was waiting with about 60 others for the signal to begin our march to the mayor’s office.
Sitting on a concrete bench that, until not quite a year ago, has been a gathering place for refugees from the dominant culture (they can no longer smoke there, so they congregate elsewhere), I overheard an exchange between a man who trumpets a certain manner of being “homeless,” not just by his ruddy, disheveled, weatherbeaten appearance and liquored odor, but by his behavior and attitude.
“I hate women, hate vaginas! I just hate ’em, had enough of them!” he kept yelling, like an out-of-control two-year-old.
Charis, a young woman who appears to be devoting her life to serving homeless people in Bloomington — those who, because of addiction or mental health issues, cannot meet the standards for anything but a “low” or “no barrier” shelter — was meeting this man face to face, actually listening to his rant, and, it seemed to me, cajoling him, rather like a mother does an out-of-control two-year-old in a public space. Catering to him, I’m tempted to say. Allowing him to continue his “spoiled” behavior.
As one who believes in “tough love,” and the idea that every individual is, when the chips are down, responsible for his or her own actions, this encounter made me cringe. And yet, on the other hand, I deeply admire her capacity to move right into this dirty, messy, social scene, without being offended, hurt, or even fazed.
Am I just too “nice,” too “middle-class”? Is this why I cannot do what she does? — But wait . . that’s not the tough-love part of me talking.
It’s as if I’m a combination of my Mom and my Dad: my Dad direct, no nonsense tough-love, and my Mom deeply grounded in polite conversation, social convention. As you can imagine, the relation between my parents was dynamic, especially in regard to me, their eldest child who behaved, while growing up, as a model of obedience and propriety, and then at 26, turned wild.
But this isn’t about me. Or is it?
We started walking.
My puppy Shadow was in the march, here carried by Jim, the permie who lives in my house, directs the GANG (Green Acres Neighborhood Garden), and is industriously and imaginatively transforming this two-house/garden complex into a permacultured urban farmstead. (Hilarious synchronicity: I accidentally caught their picture exactly as they walked under the “FARM” restaurant sign!)
We were an interesting mix of folks: the weatherbeaten, seemingly downtrodden marching along with people who’ve probably never slept outside unless they wanted to, backpacking, with Patagonia jacket and tent.
Nice sign. (“Kruzan” is the mayor.)
Here’s our rag-tag group, trailed by one police car with flashing lights, downtown.
We approach city hall.
And walk up the stairs, to where the strategically located mayor’s office “overlooks” the town.
Milling about. Would Kruzan meet with us?
The door opened. We were admitted into the inner sanctum. The mayor was not in.
Here, to me, is the one truly poignant photograph of this series. A profile of a weatherbeaten homeless man, in need of a low or no-barrier shelter in order to sleep at night, as seen through the glass window where he stood with others, who sleep in warm beds, in the mayor’s office.
From the Occupy Bloomington’s fb page today: A Call to Action and summary of what’s been going on here in Bloomington during the past year from the point of view of those who feel that sleeping is a basic human right that supercedes zoning laws.
MEET @ SHOWERS STEPS 7PM TOMORROW, 5/1/13 BEFORE CITY COUNCIL. PACK THE ROOM. MAKE A COMMENT. CARRY A SIGN. BRING A SLEEPING BAG.
On June 21 of 2012 our local public library, one of the only indoor public places in Bloomington, instituted no smoking and no loitering rules at our library. The rules were written as a way to disproportionately affect the homeless community who sought refuge in the library during inclement weather.
Last fall when Genesis Summer Shelter, the low-barrier summer shelter in Bloomington closed its doors mid-October, they let everyone know they wouldn’t be opening again next year.
Over the winter we saw the destruction of “The Office,” as it was known in the homeless community, a shaded seating area on the NW corner of Lincoln & 6th St. The benches were long and had backs. After cutting down the two huge trees that shaded the resting spot, Bloomington replaced The Office with a small garden and 3 concrete cubes, as impossible to sleep on as they are to sit on and have a conversation.
Then in early February of this year, the Bloomington Police Department’s harassment of homeless individuals went as far as to give them jay-walking tickets for crossing the street by The Shalom Center.
This spring, a group of IU Social Work students began organizing a low-barrier shelter to replace Genesis Summer Shelter. It is known as The Ubuntu Shelter. Ubuntu is prepared with full staffing of volunteers, as well as all needed resources. All they need is a location. Volunteers are working around the clock to try to come up with a solution.
On April 16th, after seasonal closing of the Interfaith Winter Shelter and no summer shelter this year, the most fragile population in Bloomington, including individuals whom are unable to meet the requirements for higher barrier shelters like Martha’s House or Backstreet Mission, were left with absolutely no options for overnight shelter. With the Ubuntu Shelter still unrealized, their sleep became illegal.
It is illegal to sleep on public property in Bloomington or on private property without permission.Bloomington’s Homeless Rights Activists tried to offer a safe place for these people to sleep when they erected the Dream Tent on W 11th St. last week. On the last night of the shelter this Sunday, over 60 people were housed, dry, warm, and safe.
It is easy to see why people believe the city government in Bloomington is attempting to force these people to leave the only city they know or be arrested. Nearly everyone who stayed during the stint at the Dream Tent call Bloomington home and have been harassed, if not arrested, by the BPD for trying to fulfill their basic need of sleeping. Yesterday, the city threatened $2500/day fines for the owners of the land on which the Dream Tent stood.
Advocates who helped erect the tent did not want the owners of the property to be the ones to bear all the responsibility of our community’s most fragile population. It is everyone’s responsibility, and our city government should facilitate the effort and be glad that community members are taking care of a problem that government refuses to be responsible for.
Before taking down the tent, Homeless Rights Activists gathered at the Bear Grove at the MCPL where this whole mess started, and walked to city council to protest the order for the tent’s removal. We had NLG lawyers talking to city legal, but they would not budge. We stormed the building and took the mayor’s office, demanding to be heard, but the only people who came out of the Mayor’s office door were police.
Last night, the homeless unable to meet the barriers of existing shelters had to hide themselves to sleep and try to sleep in fear of the BPD finding them. Tonight, and every night until there is a shelter, they will do the same.
Tomorrow is open comment at our City Council Meeting. Homeless Rights Activists who erected the Dream Tent are calling for people to come and pack the meeting, and share comments about the city depriving people of the basic need for sleep. They plan on rallying outside @ 7PM, half an hour before the meeting starts, to gather and greet their council people as they enter the building. They have requested that everyone bring sleeping bags.
Please share this story and come and tell your elected officials: Sleeping is NOT illegal! Housing is a Human Right!
Hope to see you there!
Many questions crowd my brain and heart, most of which can be focused into this one question:
• What is this “edge” between the dominant culture and the growing refugee culture? How to work this edge to maximum evolutionary advantage? Especially, how to convert the question of “how to deal with the homeless problem in Bloomington” into a template for broadening the range of “life-styles” that are not only socially and politically acceptable, but might better meet our real needs.
I’m about to write another post on “tent cities,” a subject dear to my heart, since I actually lived in one (occupying a 20-foot diameter yurt), for 18 years. There are lots of tent cities cropping up, by the way, and some of them are actually legal.