Kids have been dropping out of high school since there have been high schools, but our dropout “problem” is relatively new.
At the age of 11, my grandfather, John Alfred “Benny” Benson, was sent to work on a stranger’s farm in the next county when his mother died. His father, Otto Benson, an Iowa farmer and Swedish immigrant, had to find other people to raise his children. Grandpa B never finished the 6th grade, but when he died he left his family enough stock in the Ford Motor Company to put his grandchildren through college.
My father did finish high school, but dropped out of Pasadena City College to join the Navy just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even though he lived with a chronic, disabling form of arthritis, he was able to leverage his investment in a small 2-bedroom house purchased through the GI Bill into a 9-unit apartment building that now pays my 97-year-old mother’s rent in a lovely retirement community in Roseville, California.
Both school dropouts. Both lived financially comfortable lives.
On a related note … homeless people have always been around, but it’s only relatively recently that it’s been a “problem.” No … that’s not quite right. It’s not that it hasn’t been a problem, it’s that we’ve never seen the homeless as our problem. We’ve been able to look away, call them bums, hobos, or just plain losers …. and we’ve assumed that someone else would take care of them. Most of us have figured that by paying taxes or donating to charities we’re doing all we need to do. Now it’s becoming obvious that none of that is working anymore and “the homeless problem” is showing up in our own back yards. Literally.
Life has brought me to the place that I can’t look away anymore. Yet when I start thinking about what could, and should, be done, I become overwhelmed with the enormity of it all and am tempted to just walk away. Then I attended a meeting last Friday night where Bernie Lindley, the Vicar of our local Episcopalian church, talked about the community he refers to as “our friends with no permanent address.” All of a sudden the problem doesn’t seem so huge to me anymore.
Driving home that night, I began thinking about a little story I heard at an education conference almost 20 years ago. Maybe you’ve heard it:
The story starts with an old man who is standing on a bluff over a stretch of beach where thousands of starfish had washed in. A little boy was running around, madly picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. The old man walked down the trail to the beach, went up to the little boy and said “Son, you can’t save them all.” The little boy, with tears in his eyes, looked up at him as he was about to fling another one as far as he could and yelled, “I can save THIS one!”
That’s exactly how Bernie looks at what’s happening in our very small community on the Oregon Coast. We’re not LA, San Francisco, or even Eureka, California. Bernie can actually tell us how many of his friends have been in town for over 20 years and which ones have just fallen on some bad times and are trying to figure out what to do next. He’s like that little boy who refuses to become overwhelmed with the enormity of the problem and focuses his efforts on one starfish at a time.
What Bernie has discovered is that it’s all about listening to their stories. He knows that even in Brookings the job is too big for one person – or one church – to do it all. That’s why I became so excited about the energy that he stirred up in that room. All of a sudden our homeless “problem” began to seem manageable.
I’m going to stop right there for now and post this. Since the meeting on Friday night I’ve had so many ideas that I quickly become frustrated when I try to write about them. I may come back later … but for now I’ll just list some of the thoughts that have occurred to me in the past few weeks …
RANDOM THOUGHTS ALONG THE WAY
- The current administration is insuring that the problem is going to get much worse very soon.
- “The Homeless” …. what do we mean? List the communities within the community: The vets. The “Benny’s.” The runaways. The addicts. The battered women. The mothers. The children. The transients. The disabled. The alcoholics. The mentally ill. The school dropouts (our “throw-away kids). The families living in their cars. The couch-surfers …. and the ordinary angels along the way who bring a glimpse of hope when things look bleak.
- Homelessness is not only an URBAN PROBLEM …. rural America must step up. The “fly-over” counties elected a president who seems determined to cut the programs most of us have relied upon to keep us from seeing “the homeless.” Since World War II they have been flocking to urban areas for jobs … now they flock to urban areas for services. Urban areas are overwhelmed … it’s time rural America step up ….
- Eureka’s mayor stated the problem: Too many services attract too many people. Attitude becomes jaded … “stop feeding stray cats.”
- Park Commissioner … stepping in it at Azelea Park …
- SERVE the various communities of homeless at their own level of need. Listen to their stories and ask …
- Lanyards and messenger bags … to keep money and ID safe …
- Help with obtaining ID, birth certificates, insurance, health clinics …
- “Warm food” … (Larry at the Gazebo in McKinleyville … Burger King gift cards)
- Safe storage for their stuff …
- Porta-potties ….
- Emergency short-term shelter – safety
- Oxford Houses – (Day care – Afterschool care – AA, NA, AlAnon)
- Tiny houses …
- Transitional life coaching ….
I’d love to have you add to this list …. and perhaps ask to hear someone’s story when the spirit moves…