Conviction (My Evening at an Open House for the Homeless)

People that know me well know that I fight, in whatever way I can, for many issues, and one of those that I feel strongly about is how we treat the homeless. I do indeed care very much about the homeless population, and do everything I can to help.

Today, I had the honor of attending an Open House in regards to the homeless; essentially, citizens were allowed to speak to the Salt Lake commission commissioned to help the homeless, which included opportunities such as filling out surveys and voting on what they called “factors to success.”

Another way of helping was to take part in a video interview, where you share your thoughts. With the help of my great friend James and his family, I was able to compose a little speech for this event, where I spoke my mind. I’ll post this speech for your use.

It was a powerful moment for me, to feel the conviction I felt, and I almost cried at one point reading the speech, but didn’t, kept myself steady and even; regardless, it felt intense to have this conviction/purpose and to fight for this cause, but it also felt liberating: It, in short, felt necessary. It is my moral duty. There is plenty of debate in classical and modern philosophy about the place of the citizen in the Polis, but usually that position is best when the position is as it was today: A democratic setting that allows people to speak their minds passionately and compassionately about issues they care about, and to take part in government to hopefully encourage action and dialogue, as well as engagement. This was one opportunity of doing that, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity.

With all of the tragic events that have happened in our nation recently, it is nice to see people fighting for things they care about and drawing attention to these sensitive issues. A young man before me spoke passionately about his situation, and what can be done to help the homeless, and it was powerful stuff, and touching: And, certainly, important.

Anyway: Below is the speech. It’s open and honest like a raw wound, but it is what it is. I have no shame.

Sincerely,

Phoenix

Hello. My name is Phoenix. I deeply appreciate what this committee is doing to improve the lives of the homeless. I believe that the community goals and commitments are well-thought out, as they seek to improve the well-being and happiness of the homeless population, and are intent on seeing the people as human beings, although I have some thoughts about the situation.

I think, no matter what decision is made, whether the decision is to move facilities, to add more facilities, to calculate funding for housing and facilities, or any other policy issue, the following concern should be heavily considered: That is, how the decisions made will affect the homeless in terms of “community.”

The best way to approach the problem in that sense, would be to think about what any citizen would appreciate in a community, because it is clear that having a sense of community goes a long way in regards to a person’s mental health and well-being, and their overall quality of life. It is not unreasonable to want a safe place for the kids of families to play, a place free of drug paraphernalia and imminent danger. It is normal for homeless people to want to live in a nice environment and to be in a safe place. If you boil down the issues in the factors to success, a common theme emerges, and that is indeed, the desire for the homeless to live happily and healthily (which goes beyond simply being near hospitals, though that is certainly important). It would seem that handing out housing vouchers to those in need, while a step in the right direction, isn’t the answer to the problem, because there are many factors to consider. Essentially, the question to ask is what can we do with our resources, ranging from funding to volunteers to facilities, that would make the experience of the homeless more tolerable and the treatment of this population more benevolent and humane.

The homeless need a shelter or resources that allow them to start over; this suggests a place where they can recover from the trauma of their past and move on from whatever problems have prevented them from being the people they want to be. Also, it seems that paying attention to what would provide stability for the homeless would also be helpful. For me personally, I find that a nice apartment that I can furnish to my own tastes, a peaceful neighborhood with kind landlords, as well as a place near such necessary places as a grocery store, and a place that is not chaotic and loud and even dangerous, is very beneficial to my health and well-being. In terms of facilities for the homeless, the same rules can be applied. Is the facility near an airport, for instance, where it is always loud, or is the place near a park, where the homeless person may retreat with their family and enjoy a nice summer day? Those are crucial points to consider, because it comes down to, what can be done to improve the quality of life of the homeless? What would we as citizens like and appreciate in a community?

I have one final note. Much attention has been placed to “subpopulations.” I don’t have the understanding to address the needs of many subpopulations, though I can attest to one specific subpopulation: that is, the subpopulation that would include those who are mentally ill, whether they have schizophrenia or depression or some other debilitating disease.

I would urge the committee to take into account that dealing with mental illness is a very complicated social and psychological matter, which is compounded by drug abuse and/or economic hardships. I have schizoaffective disorder with bipolar symptoms, and having this disease has caused me to almost be homeless on two separate occasions. The circumstances were very complex, and would have led to me being homeless had there not been prompt intervention. My biggest concern is that it is very hard for a person with a mental disorder to manage their illness, much less manage their life, which means intensive care must be utilized effectively for the homeless person with the mental illness to recover: It takes, for instance, a long time for a person with a mental disorder to learn how to manage their disorder, and this is exacerbated when they don’t have support from the public or a community, or from the mental healthcare system. Having hospitals with beds, for instance, is a step in the right direction, as it allows treatment to be available and creates a safe place to retreat. I would also hope the staff of these hospitals are compassionate and caring. It is true that the person with the mental illness must be willing to be treated and must be willing to comply, but sometimes the treatment isn’t there or could be better. For instance, I have been treated inhumanely many times by mental healthcare institutions, and I am generally a high-functioning person. This means, despite my efforts, I am still stereotyped. With this in mind, it would not be a stretch to say that the homeless feel shame, and feel stigmatized because of their mental illness, compounded by the stigmatization of being homeless. Also, to complicate the matter, the person might not even be aware they have an illness, which simply causes more problems. Staff members must realize that people with mental disorders can be a very vulnerable population, especially when they are mistreated.

Again, this is Phoenix, and thank you for your time.

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