14 April 2009

Belonging in Heartside

When I first began working at Degage, I was impressed by the sense of community that I observed. The Heartside are of Grand Rapids was a place where people who were impoverished or homeless could call their own. They knew the churches, they knew the neighborhood agencies, and they knew each other. Community here is just like community anywhere else in the city: there's the place you go on Monday nights, that thing you do when you're bored, the people you hang out with, and the people you don't. Walking through Degage's dining room is the same as walking through a high school cafeteria... the drunks, the druggies, the domino players, the depressed and the delinquent teenagers all have their own tables. There is also a smaller group of transients; they come and they go, and never really become attached to anyone in the community, and never become too familiar with the routine. But for many of those who are homeless, this is their home.

It's really a wonderful thing, when you look at it, because it gives hope and security and companionship amidst a good deal of difficulty. But when people form their community here... something happens...

Well, just imagine being surrounded by people who serve you, people who love you, and, well, all the familiar places. Then someone offers you a different place to live--it's not in walking distance from everything you know, not to mention all of the agencies that feed you, clothe you, and entertain you. You have no transportation, and this housing situation, though more 'humane' by the world's standards, is missing a pretty important component: your community. So you come back. And that's just the thing. Who is ever going to want to "rise up" out of a situation that society calls "impoverished", if it means leaving everything you love? I sure woudn't.

Are we trying to force a lifestyle onto people who have already adapted to one? Do the social services exist to pacify the concience of the middle class?

Are we wasting our time?
I don't think so. But I'm thinking about this.

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