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Parables from a mad social scientist
Parables persent an entertaining way to make a point so that the reader or listener is impacted deeply. I will present a collection of stories from the perspective of a social scientist.
The Homeless Story of a Wayward Man
Some notes on developing an urban Convertible Community (a companion piece to Open source private sector FEMA)
I will boldly state that every community in America, or pretty close to all, have some first hand experience with the ever growing issue of homelessness. I have attempted to approach this growing crisis with new eyes, first throwing aside previous assumptions. As I begin this quest of vision I shall first clarify my presuppositions.
1. Personal responsibility for self-sufficiency is fair and reasonable for every able-bodied community resident. This means that barring severe mental or physical disorder, it is the individuals responsible to provide for their own care.
2. Society should intervene in self sufficiency as a resource, providing aid based on goodwill not obligation. This means the community should be wiling to aid in the process of self sufficiency because in doing this it promotes healthy communities which is in the best interest of society as a whole.
3. Luxury accommodations are not an entitlement, rather a privilege of society self sufficiency.
4. Society should intervene in a very limited manner with providing the basic living infrastructure for individuals. This should happen for short, limited times rather than become an ongoing burden on society.
With those presuppositions clearly state, I began the vision quest looking at how solutions could be implemented.
I shall present these ideas in the form of a parable...
In a city not so far away, there were hundreds of individuals with no place to call home. A wise sage one day decided to take on the garb of homelessness and walk several miles in the shoes of one man whose homeless existence caught his eye. He walked with this man for days observing but not speaking. He joined the man one morning as the man stood in line at a local church. Rather than spiritual guidance the sage was surprised that instead it was breakfast that was offered and readily accepted. He sat quietly next to the man after filing through the line, through the doors, accepting the greeting from the smiling warm volunteer worker, filing through the line offering warm biscuits, homely eggs and sustaining grits (a southern phenomenon). After that they began filing into the tables which had served so many others, the sage presumed. And he watched, the man ate quickly with his head hung low. He watched as the man silently stood and walked in silence to the garbage receptacles and deposited the debris inside. There was no contact with any others, except that warm smiling lady who offered her hand and a hug. And the sage followed. He watched as the man hefted his satchel over his shoulder and readjusted the laces on his boots. The sage noticed the worn condition of the heavy construction foot protection. They walked only inches apart down the street, still sleepy from the night before and they arrived at what looked to be a holding center for other similarly dressed individuals. The man signed his name although nobody acknowledged his presence and he took his seat in an orange plastic chair that was coated with the use from days and months and years past. And the sage watched.
There were many standing and pacing, some anxious and many seemingly unconcerned. In minutes there stood a lady from behind a glass window who began to call names. The sage watched as the man quickly walked to the window to accept the slip of paper and proceeded out to a waiting bus. The sage followed and with a nod to the driver also entered the bus and sat beside the man. The bus made several stops and finally the man rose and exited the bus, and the sage followed. There was demolition already in motion and a man with a hat beckoned the man to his side. The man shook hands but offered very few words. He dropped his satchel in the direction that the man in the hat directed and he went to work. He worked and he worked, the sage noticed the sweat staining the color of his once dry and clean shirt. This went on for hours and then the motion stopped. The workers on the site gathered their belongings and retrieved what looked like a hefty dinner. The man being followed pulled out what looked like packaged cookies and chips and a thermos of what looked like water. Again he ate with his head hanging low. And the sage watched.
After a short time the motion around the area resumed and the man went back to his work. This lasted for hours and eventually again the work ceased to the sound of a whistle. The man gathered his things and pulled out a towel. He wiped his head and neck and placed the towel around his shoulders. He went back to the spot where he had stepped off the mobile chariot. Within minutes the same vehicle from the morning returned. They entered and sat, the man with a fulfilled look on his face. They rode in silence and returned to the waiting center from the morning. As they exited the vehicle, the man entered a growing line of people waiting to be at the front of the line in front of the window. As the man arrived at that front of the line, he submitted the piece of paper from the morning and was rewarded with what looked like $35 and some random coins. The man smiled and returned outside. The man went to a nearby bench and sat down. He carefully took the bills marked with the number five and separated four from the others. He folded them and put them in his shirt pocket. He then folded the remaining bills and placed them in his pocket. He inhaled deeply and hefted his bag onto his shoulder and began to walk. He walked quickly north. The sage followed, seemingly floating on air. The man walked for what the sage could calculate as almost half a mile. They entered through the automatic doors of a building that was filled with foods of all kinds. The man picked up a small basket with handles and he carefully selected four packs of tuna in a foil sealed bag, a box of crackers and two apples. He walked to a table that seemed to roll forward with the items. The lady behind the rolling table placed the items into a bag immediately after waving them by a shiny mirror, ensuring a beep. The man reached into the pocket and pulled out two bills and presented them to the lady. She returned some changes which his pushed into his pocket with one hand while he grabbed the bag with his other offering a mumbled thanks. He walked ahead while swinging his knapsack to his front and in a swift motions inserted the items into his bag. He replaced it and took off walking with determination and a quick gate. The sage followed.
The man walked retracing his steps and then continued on. He walked 18 blocks further than when he started and he arrived at a fenced building with others standing in yet another line. As his position advanced to the front he arrived at another window, this time with no glass. He signed his name and pulled a card carrying his name and photo out of his pocket and presented it to the man behind the window. The man nodded and the man then pulled the four bills out of his pocket. He signed his name and reclaimed his card and walked down the hall to a room that had eight beds. He placed his satchel under an empty bed and proceeded down the hall and around the corner to a room of similar size to the one that morning. The man stood in yet another waiting line and was offered a tray with warm food. It looked like spaghetti with red sauce. The man ate and then exited, returning to his room. He gathered his satchel and walked to the room containing showers. He was given a towel and he disrobed and showered and exited wearing garments removed from the satchel.
He went to a room equipped with a television and a pool table, some books, checkers and decks of cards randomly placed on tables. He sat reading and writing and an hour later he stood and departed. The sage watched as the man settled onto the bed, stretched and laid down. He almost instantly fell into a deep slumber. The sage watched and he too faded to sleep.
Sleep was dismissed at the sound of a loud buzzer at 5:00 am according to the clock on the wall. The man jumped up and grabbed the towel from the night before and quickly walked to the restroom. He quickly washed his face and brushed his teeth and with precision seemed to jump into his clothes and boots. He went back to the room, made up the bed and grabbed his satchel. He grabbed his towels and walked out the room and down the hall. He deposited his towel into a barrel, returned to the window, signed his name, nodded in the affirmative to the man and exited the building. He quickly walked 18 blocks back to the house of worship where the sage embarked on the quest the day before. The sage watched as the same motions were repeated that day and they arrived at the same place the next morning. This day would be different. After eating and walking to the place with the windowed woman, this day he went through the routine but there was no name calling and so he sat for hours and eventually he stood quietly and left. He walked several blocks to a nearby park and pulled out a writing instrument and note pad. He wrote and he wrote and he stared into space. After several hours he made the 18 block walk to the place of shelter and sleep. He followed this pattern the next day also and on the following day the pattern changed. After his time in the park this time there was no walk as the evening drew close. Instead he sat and he sat longer. Finally he arose and walked about four blocks where there were a gathering of people and more lines. He stood in another line and was offered several hot dogs, a cup of sweet tea and a bag of chips. He nodded thanks, sat and then ate. He discarded his rubbish and was offered more food this time in a sack. He placed the sack in his satchel and he walked slowly away. He walked back towards the park and sat. He sat well into the night and finally laid on a flat level place, placing his satchel under his head, right after removing a round object from the satchel. He wound the instrument and set it beside him and he slowly turned and tossed but eventually fell into sleep. The sage watched. After awakening to the buzz he began a regiment of stretching and bending. He pulled a wipe out of his bag and wiped his face and under his arms. he quickly changed his shirt and brushed his teeth with no water and he walked. He walked back to the place of breakfast offerings and the day continued as each other had....it was at that point that the sage spoke. He introduced himself and asked the man for his time today. He promised to exchange seven bills with the number five markings for his time. The man agreed.
The sage walked and asked the man to follow. They started in a different direction this time. They walked for some ten blocks before arriving on an empty space of land. The sage gave a few instructions and the man sat down his satchel and walked over to a stack of boards. He viewed the saw and began following the instructions of the sage. He worked hard and began sweating and in two hours the stood back with the sage with tears filling his eyes. They had finished driving the last nail in what appeared to be a wooden cabin. The sage made a call on his cell phone which appeared almost miraculously. Minutes later a truck marked Water Department on the side arrived. A man stepped out with a few hand tools and lengths of white round pipe. He drilled a hole into the wall of the structure and screwed some pieces in place. He joined the white pipe and after connecting several twists and turns connected it to a large white pipe coming from the ground. The sage made another call and minutes later an elderly lady drove up. The man following the directive of the sage went and retrieved a box from in her trunk. He cried as the woman hugged him lovingly. He took the box and placed in on the ground in front of the door of this cabin. He took out an inflatable mattress which had also previously been in her trunk and began to inflate it with the hand pump. He eventually looked through the box to see cans of food and a blanket, soap and toothpaste. He also finds a a simple camping kit with plate and fork and spoon and cup. He places the mattress and blanket inside of the cabin and then quietly with a tear running from his eye organizes the cans in the box which he places on the side of the mattress.
The wise sage decided to continue his vision quest and to walk a few more miles with the man. He finally made introductions and explained that he was trying to see clearly and learn about this community. With the rest of the afternoon he walked the man over a street and introduced him to a wonderful lady whose hair was beginning to gray. As they talked the lady bent over pulling the green grass from between the carefully planted rows of budding plants. She spoke gently to the man and invited him to come put his hands in the dirt often. She picked some of the luscious greens and tomatoes and placed them into a several times recycled bag and sent them on their way. As the two made it back to the cabin, there was a small box with a bow and it had the mans name on it in crudely written letters. The man picked up the slightly smaller than a shoe box container and opened it to find a cornucopia of envelopes each with a picture on the front and all containing seeds. The man entered the cabin and sat on the floor and wept. The sage stood silently outside the door and waited. He waited until the man decided to come out in silence.
As the man came out the sage asked the man about his dinnertime plans. The mans simply asked if he could just stay put. The sage silently nodded. The man went for the first time to the water fixture and took the container from the cardboard storage shelf. He washed it out and then washed the leaves and tomatoes that he had been given. He carefully cut the tomatoes and chopped the green and then opened the canteen. He placed half on one side and half on the other. He walked to the wise sage and with his head hanging low offered one of the dishes to him. He silently turned and walked back to the middle of the cabin and took his seat on the floor. This time he hung his head low in quiet reflection for what seemed like minutes. Upon raising his head he breathed in deeply, slowly. During his head bent meditation, the sage had taken a seat across from the man. They began their meal in silence and as they drew to a conclusion, the man began to cry and laugh. And then the man began to speak. He spoke low and slowly and began to tell the wise sage the story of his life. He told all of the twists and turns of his life well into the early morning hours. As he faded into exhaustion, he reached into his satchel and pulled out his clock. He wound it and set the arms. He offered the sage his newly inflated bed but the sage refused. The man removed his heavy boots and reclined on the bed, covered himself with the blanked and was almost instantly asleep.
As the buzzer sounded there was a different routine to the day. The man woke up and looked around with a look of confusion. He rose slowly and gathered his bearings. He walked to the opening of the cabin and looked out. He looked thoughtfully and then he seemed to leap into the day. He took one of the containers and filled it with water. He went into his satchel and then paused to remove all of the contents. He took from the items a well worn rag and a bar of previously used soap. He moistened the rag and washed. He brushed his teeth and exchanged yesterdays clothes for a new set. Today he grabbed the satchel but he only put into it a rugged package of tuna and a partial package of crackers. He took from another package that was unopened and began to eat. He hoisted his satchel on his shoulder and began the walk. This morning he whistled between crackers. He approached the church and walked past the line waiting for admittance. He went to the waiting room to greet the lady behind the window, and this morning he spoke a few words of greeting. She was surprised to see him speak and looked surprised to see him so early. This morning he didn't go and sit down, she immediately handed him the usual slip of paper and told him to go out to the waiting transport van. He chewed the last cracker as he stepped inside, and the sage went along also. He was taken to a different place this morning and the work didn't seem nearly as hard as the other days but he worked hard and long. As the time for break came he stopped and rested, taking out the partial package of crackers and tuna. This time there were bins of water and cups for them to refresh themselves with. He rested momentarily and then wandered back to where he had been working. He looked around and found a tool that needed mending and he carefully repaired it. By that time the others had gathered back to work and he joined them. Something different happened at the end of this day. He turned in his paper slip and this time received eight bills in return. He paused before turning away after questioning the lady behind the window. She nodded and he placed the bills into his pocket and departed. He did his usual stop outside and looked at the bills. This time he placed all of the bills in his pocket. He hoisted his satchel over his shoulder and quickly walked to the grocery store. He paused as if in thought. He walked and bought several apples this time and some some other fruits. This time he walked over to the deli and they had chicken that had been baked. He got a whole one and then thought. He bought some paper products and then went and bought a bottle of soda. He went to the checkout and pulled out three bills and paid the cashier. He didn't put the bags in his satchel this time. Instead he carried them swinging them a bit as he went. He walked quickly as if he was in a hurry. Today he spoke to the sage. He told him how much he enjoyed chicken and he walked. He walked to his cabin and put down his bags. He piled his blanket over the still warm chicken and went to the box that had his name on it. He opened it slowly and thumbed through the items. He started to take the envelopes out but put them back, closed the box and put it under his arm. He asked the sage if he would join him and the sage nodded. He took off down the street and over to the garden. He went straight to the place that the lady has pointed out to him the day before. It appeared to have been freshly plowed. He bent over every stay strand of grass and carefully pulled it out and then with his hands made rows in the soil. He carefully planted the rows and then helped himself to the greens and tomatoes that he had been invited to share. He walked back to his cabin with a content look on his face. He carefully washed the harvested greens and tomatoes and then washed the soil from his hands. He carefully cut the produce and carved the chicken and placed it as he had the night before on the two plates. This time he spoke. He acknowledged not knowing where the sage had come from and admitted the uncertainty of the future. He ate slowly today wondering what tomorrow would offer.
The moral of this story: Allow people every opportunity to renew their dignity and they will in turn change their own lives.
Live life fully today! LaRahna Hughes LaRahna@gmail.com