That quotation is by Isak Dinesen, the pen name of Karen Blixen, of ‘Out of Africa’ fame.
One of the points of this site is to provide a place for people to tell their stories. And by doing so to express the fact they are individuals, people, not just ‘homeless’. (I’ll use ‘homeless’ in this post to include the marginalised also).
There is a very well known model called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
At Doorway, we have to help people to address the issues in the bottom layer of that pyramid, as nothing else can be achieved without that base. But we know that people (and these are people, not just statistics) need to move their activities up that pyramid. For this reason, our musical, creative writing, and soon our gardening and sporting, activities, are important areas for us to develop. Always aiming for the staff and volunteers to facilitate, but for the guests to take ownership of, as soon, and as much, as possible.
Here are some words from a man in Washington DC, Eric Sheptock, blogging in August 2009.
“Most homeless people want to tell their story to a friend who is not homeless. We hate to be just fed. We want conversation. If all you want to do is feed somebody, there are plenty of pigeons in the world. The homeless want to be spoken to like human beings.
What you read will shed some light on the plight of the homeless and help you to see them as people first and then as homeless. My story, while unique in some ways, has its similarities to the stories of other homeless people. Most notable is the fact that there is a lot more to me than my homeless status. Homelessness is an economic status. It says nothing for my level of intellect, personality, or what I did before my fall from grace. Regardless of our present, past or social status, the homeless are people too.”
Some people feel uncomfortable being reminded of the fact that the homeless are people too. It makes it more difficult to walk past them, to ignore them, to pretend they don’t exist. Hearing their stories challenges positions of moral superiority or condescension or contempt. A little like the Christmas Truce football games in World War I. It’s dangerous – listen too much, you might consider a possibility that this could have happened or might yet happen to you.
And some people feel that the homeless have no right to have anything or express themselves other than in the most basic way. For example, as in the blog, The Adventures of Homeless Girl, people being upset that the homeless might have any access to technology.
Well, here, we want to hear those stories. John Steinbeck (he who wrote the great ‘Grapes of Wrath’, showing how a nation’s economic troubles can devastate ordinary lives) said:
“We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say – and to feel – ‘Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought’ “
To be a person is to have a story to tell. The homeless and marginalised are people too, so they have stories to tell too. Let’s listen.