Sunday, July 05, 2009

Talking and Walking on Independence Day

Church and State:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In the wake of Monday night's small victory of common sense over intolerance, I was relaying the events of this past weekend, and Monday's Council meeting, to my girlfriend Leslie.

Leslie is a very down-to-earth, intelligent woman. She doesn't mince words, and gives you her whole heart when she is talking or listening. This is quickly becoming a lost art in the age of the Internet.

Leslie was largely unimpressed. "Have you ever sat down and talked with a homeless person, really talked to them about their situation?", she asked. "Have you ever truly tried to make a difference, got your hands dirty, tried walking the walk instead of just talking?"

I told her that for about a year I volunteered driving a church van, taking homeless and transient people to various locations that they needed to go, such as the Workforce Center, Social Security Office, or Marillac Clinic. This did not change her assessment, nor did my assertion that perhaps I could have influenced someone through my writing to look at this segment of our population in a different light. She said, "Not enough people read your blog to make that kind of a difference".

She is probably right about all of those things, including the last one. Other than the van gig, I really haven't engaged the homeless population of Grand Junction. I've instead written blog posts, as well as checks to Catholic Outreach, the Homeless Shelter, and other non-profits that serve this community.

I believe that a good portion of our citizens that care about the community at large may be in the same boat as I am; willing to give of our resources, but too busy or otherwise engaged to get ourselves more involved on a personal level. Monday's Council meeting was hopefully the beginning of a cooperative effort between the homeless community, those members of the community willing to lend support, and the local government.

This past Wednesday I sat down with local activist and homeless advocate Jacob Richards, who has spent a great deal of time among those in the homeless community. While Jacob's politics are decidedly different (he does tend to lean toward the theatrical at times), he does offer unique perspective and access to this issue that can't (or won't) be duplicated elsewhere.

As always, Jacob likes to push his message and his idea of change, and Wednesday was no exception. He was telling me about a police crackdown on "pedestrian violations" the day following the Council meeting. This was briefly touched on by the Sentinel yesterday.

Jacob claimed that 18 citations were written this past Tuesday, usually when a panhandler stepped off of the curb to receive a donation from a motorist. Jacob also stated that another ticket that is often issued to homeless and transient people is for smoking in a public park. This includes Main Street from 3rd to 7th Streets, otherwise known as the "Main Street Shopping Park".

I have a feeling that these petty offense ordinances are going to become a bigger issue, along with the panhandling and solicitation ordinances to come. The Sentinel article was centered around citations issued to those who listed no home address, or a shelter facility as their address.

I'm wondering what those numbers are as a percentage of all citations issued. I was thinking about this more as I watched numerous people lighting up at the Farmers' Market on Main Street this past Thursday, while cops on bicycles rode right by.

My son got a jaywalking ticket a couple of years ago, so from that I get the impression that just the homeless aren't being targeted. Maybe it's just the homeless and teenagers.

Time to do some more research.

Check out this post, from a statewide independent media website, which details the activities organized on short notice for last Monday's Council meeting, the introduction of a new local advocacy group targeting homeless issues, and the announcement of a meeting and rally slated for next Tuesday morning in Whitman Park. I hope to be able to make it there.

It feels kind of hokey to try to use Independence Day as a metaphor for personal growth and change, but this is one of several areas that this needs to happen in my life and our existence as a community. For those who lead lives challenged by homelessness, substance abuse, and/or mental illness, one commenter to this site (who I think is in a related position of responsibility) summed it up nicely:
"Telling them to get a job or criminalizing their situation is hardly a solution, and doesn't get to the causative issues. If we're serious about getting them "off the streets," let's all buckle down and work up a set of community strategies that helps them get to a better and more stable place where they can be safe and self sufficient. It's not rocket science, but it does have to be done with intent."
"Done with intent". In other words, getting out there, stepping outside the box, getting your hands dirty. Leslie is someone who is not comfortable living any other way. I would like to emulate her example in many aspects of my life, including this one. Other parts of my life get in the way of this much more than I should allow. Enough said for now.

I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day. I had to work, but I have today off. I would have preferred not to have slept in, as I would prefer to be at church right now. Time to get moving and do some good work.

Have a good week ahead.

P.S. Thanks to Jen for the scripture reference.

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