Sunday, May 20, 2012


Why won’t they come in out of the rain?  We have people living on the street, in the woods, in the cracks and crannies of abandoned buildings never meant to be inhabited.  Some of them will NOT come into the shelters prepared for them with cost and effort.  This is particularly true of some religious projects.  Whether or not missionary do-gooders are predatory and will “capture” people when they are weak and needy, they are perceived that way.  Some will bow their heads and pretend to listen to a sermon -- others will not.
Out West we know about “Stay Away, Joe” who lived in a wrecked car on Hill 57 and Steve Solovich who lived in the Oregon woods and a host of people who have built hooches in Forest Park, a strip of comparative wilderness inside the boundaries of Portland, OR.  One winter an old bag lady lived in the public women’s restroom of the Portlandia building.  Another old woman lived in a condemned house with 65 chihuahua-mix dogs.  All of them could have accepted public shelter and, in fact, I did force that dog lady into a “safe house” which she hated because she said the others there were stupid and crazy.  But once she was pushed back into polite society, she did pretty well.  I’ve always wondered how well her “social worker” did, since that young man let her slip into a major mess, pleading an excessive work load.
In the animal control years of the Seventies I spent a lot of time talking to homeless kids, who almost always had a dog with them.  Over time they grudgingly put strings on them so they were “leashed,” but the truth is there wasn’t much trouble with the dogs who stayed right with their human partners and did whatever the kids did, which wasn’t much.  Sleep, talk, play the guitar.  They did their food searches at hours when I wasn’t there -- obviously.  They had NO intention of going into shelters.  What they wanted most of all was to be together, but on their own terms.
They said that once adults got hold of them, they would be back where they were in their families, reduced to pawns, confined, belittled, and victims of force.  This was in the Seventies, a far more innocent time than today.  There was sexwork and VD, but no HIV.  There was violence but no tasers.  There were drugs, but mostly low-potency pot.  A little heroin -- no meth.  The kids from rich families were sometimes stumped about what to do -- they could mostly go home if they wanted to -- but the kids from poor or abusive families said they were better off on the street.  Portland has a mild climate -- if you don’t mind rusting.  Montana is different.  2012 is different.  The culture is different.  Even the Mexicans are going home in spite of drug cartel mass murders.
But still the kids want to stay in the street.  Now many are likely to have lung problems (including drug-resistant TB), systemic problems (Hep C and HIV), skin problems and brain function problems.  Being gay is not a brain function problem or systemic problem, it is a family system function problem:  families still throw out male gays.  Not lesbians because they don’t really believe that girls can be gay.  They’re just considered stubborn.  But male gays “shame” the family and won’t be able to earn a living and won’t produce grandchildren -- so why be nice to them?  These parents cover their failure to love their children by claiming the Bible says gays are filth.  (They do not speak Aramaic, Greek or Hebrew so they don’t really know what the Bible says.  They’re pretty sure the translators of the Bible know, even if some of them were Elizabethan.  The rabid radio guys tell them.)
What if the skies parted and God personally spoke to them in Elizabethan English, saying,  “What you do to the least, you do also to me.  Nothing in the human world is foreign to me.  Take care of one another.”  They’d just find another excuse besides whatever might be the desire attachments of their kids.  It’s a plain raw case of not wanting the kid unless they can control him for their own ends.
This is the problem with religious charities who will accept gay kids because they are invested in the belief that they, rather than God, know what is best and that homosexuality is a kind of evil disease that they can figure out how to cure, thereby expanding their flock.  No biologist has convinced them that studies show that a percentage of male sheep (like all mammals) are naturally inclined to “ram” other male sheep.  This puzzled evolutioners at first -- why wouldn’t this preference die out?  But it appears that those “gay” rams contribute to the whole flock by adding to the group’s “armament.”  They horn in on coyotes.  Gay is not a lifestyle.  Gay does not mean narcissism.  Gays contribute.  It is the group that ultimately survives IF the group protects its individuals.
In the Fifties and Sixties closeted adult gays were major contributors to the lives of the whole society.  Over the years many of them have quietly come out.  Soldiers, teachers, artists, politicians, sometimes in “het” marriages and sometimes not, sometimes with children and sometimes not, they were often clean cut, honorable, and protective of outliers.  I am not lesbian but I’m definitely an outlier, not in any flamboyant way, but stubbornly, which is why I stay interested in oddball kids who won’t go in out of the rain.
What sort of shelter would outliers accept?  I think it can be minimal.  Even old couches in an abandoned warehouse would do -- though there would be no profit for middlemen building “perfect” places.  Providers have got to do more listening than explaining.  If providers listen carefully and digest what they learn, that can be significant for all of us.  I think the demonized drugs can be crowded out by good nutrition, enough sleep, safety, and proper medical care.  Call me naive -- it’s better than cynical self-fulfilling prophesy.  I don’t know about funding, where it should come from and who should account for how its spent, but I do know that eventually it will feed back into the larger economy in terms of people who are able to guide their own lives and motivated to contribute their talents.  The public schools, even at university level, can’t really claim that they always manage that.
Atypical kids are goats among the sheep.  One manages goats by going ahead with the flute or whistle -- then they follow.  In fact, sometimes they get to work to organize themselves.  The grownups can be stuck, squalling like babies, a role reversal of the generations.  Adolescence, full of courage and energy, is short.  Hurry up, please.  It’s time.  People are getting soaked.

1 comment:

prairie mary said...

Hi, Prairie Mary. I enjoyed your words about outliers. I'd like to tell you about out outlier. Penniless? Not at all. He was a sophomore in a private college in the 1970s. He'd been radicallized by the Vietnam War and was very much a back to the land person. We paid our part of his tuition, he contributed his part and the college gave a generous grant. Still he needed to take out a loan to get to the complete amount. Being the natural skinflint he was, he took a campting tent and a kerosene lamp to a steep wooded slope behind the college and set up camp, thus eliminating dorm fees and a student loan. He worked in food service for his meals, and took care of showers and other bodily functions with the help of a friend who sneaked him into the dorm. He lived that way for one whole school year.
Our son is 62 now and still working for the cause -- provding weatherization advice and services through a utility in Eastern Oregon. One more outlier,not out of necessity, but because he's always been a goat among sheep -- and how we love him. Willa Holmes