Tuesday, July 17, 2012

thoughts on homelessness

Tell Them Who I Am, by Elliot Liebow, is the story of life in a homeless woman's shelter in DC in the 80s. I'm drawn to this topic for some reason. Last year I read The Girl's Guide to Homelessness, by Brianna Karp. Both are these are memoirs, although Liebow's is a third person observation while Karp tells her story in true memoir style. Both books make the point that homelessness is real, and difficult, and that the system often times works against you.

Both these books come at the problem from different angles-- Liebow's describes what I most often think of as a homeless experience-- walking the streets during the day, waiting for the church run shelter to open-- while Karp was living in a camper in a Wal*Mart parking lot. Both of these descriptions show women living on the edge of the poverty line... and one small bit of misfortune sends you crashing into the abyss. Many of the women Liebow encountered had jobs (unless anyone at work discovered that they had no home, and then they often seemed to end up suddenly unemployed) but they worked for minimum wage. And minimum wage is not enough, especially if you don't have anyone with whom to share expenses.

The other point that was very obvious after reading both books is how important a true support system is to anyone being able to weather a rough spell. Having family and true friends who are not also living at poverty level makes a huge difference, but having anyone at all can be the difference between making it and not.

So what does this mean for me? I am unbelievably lucky, and I know it. I have everything I need-- plenty of it, in fact-- and so much of what I want. I have shelter, a variety of food, warmth, clothes for all types of weather, a savings account, good credit, and a great job with incredible benefits. I get plenty of sick days, to use for me and should I need to care for my family. I am eligible for family leave should I need it. And I have friends and family who are not only able to help in a long term emergency situation, but who would also do so willingly. Happily. I live relatively free from violence, and have never experienced war of any kind first hand. My heavens, I live a good life.

Last night Portland voted down a proposal banning pan handling in the medians. The police felt it was it's not safe for drivers or the pan handlers... but advocates for people who are homeless called them out (I think accurately) as a way to push these people out of view. Truly, I'm impressed with the vote, but why can't we focus on a world where no one needs to beg for money in the first place?

I hope to do more to link students with the resources and connections they need when they graduate. Make no mistake-- I'm not just talking about Sunshines here. Yes, I have taught kids who are homeless, but I'm not naive enough to think there aren't others I've encountered who were not in my program. Luckily, the kids I've encountered so far have had places to go and people willing and able to help them. I pray that is always the case, and that everyone is able to have a place to call home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012


Life got away from me... here are a few of the highlights from the end of the year.
I hope to be better about blogging this summer. Time will tell, I guess.

losers and winners

There are many reasons to love July. As a teacher, July means a full month to focus on my family and recharge my own batteries. It is freedom to think about what I want to change in my classroom next year without having to implement said changes tomorrow. It means soaking up hot, lazy days, Frederick style, and store away for those cold winter days that are coming.

But July also means the best sports season of the year. As I type, I'm switching between Wimbledon and the Tour de France. Later today we'll watch more Olympic trials. Yesterday we watched the European Cup final match. We don't plan our lives around television shows... except during the Fortnight.

There's been heavy chatter by the swimming announcers about how Michael Phelps hates to lose. He loves to win, but he hates to lose. Yea, yea, whatever... I hear it as the filler it's meant to be between heats, trying to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. But watching Federer struggle in the first set of the Round of 16, that concept of hating to lose resonated. Federer took the first medical time out I think I've seen him take (which the announcers repeated multiple times, just to be sure we knew what a big deal that was). His opponent-- a name I don't know off the top of my head-- recognized his weakness, and seemed to be capitalizing on it. Federer was down 5-6 in the first set. Ok, I thought, here we go...

If that had been me out there, Malisse would have beat me. Which is why it would never have been me out there-- because I don't hate to lose so desperately that I'll do whatever it takes to win. When I "ran" cross country in high school (quotes necessary because I wasn't running as much as walking with a hop in between steps. 10 minute miles are not that impressive.) I let people pass me, if they cared to. I could hear them coming up behind me, and if someone was behind me, they were probably in last place. I could hear them thinking "I'm not going to finish DFL today..." and I really just didn't care. My job was to finish, not to finish high in the standings.

But Federer is clearly not me, and he obviously hates losing. He won the game, and then the tiebreaker. He's up 1 set to nil in a rain delay (and that's a whole other announcer rant-- why go into a delay when you can close the roof over Centre Court?) and I have to believe he will win this game, whatever it does to his body. Because he hates to lose. Aha, young grasshopper... it is all starting to make sense now.

So I'll stay here on the couch, watching all these elite athletes abuse their bodies to feed their need to be the best. Not their best, as with I am content, but THE best. And be thankful that they think that way, because it's so fun to watch on these hot July days...