A red heart for The Red Team: A beating red heart for determination, resilience, compassion, and love. Indeed, I would like to talk about my experience with working with The Red Team of The Legacy Initiative on January 17, 2016.
Basically what this team does is do welfare checks on the homeless, provide basic necessities when applicable, and pick up needles, among other things. I believe it to be very important work, and I am definitely happy that I was able to take part in this experience.
These are my thoughts on the actual experience. We were walking in an isolated area, underneath an overpass, a place most people do not venture towards. You hear about homeless people living in places such as this, but until you experience it, it is hard to understand what this actually means. Indeed, even though there were no camps, we could tell that people were certainly living there, because blankets were left behind in various places, as well as empty food packages and old clothes, and the like. I remember specifically encountering one of these so-called camps, and I realized on a very deep level that a person lives there and/or has lived there. This tugs at your heart in a way that is very difficult to explain. You think about things differently and in a different light, such as the fact that the homeless person, who is dislocated and alienated, is trying to make the place home, but it can never be home. Surely, we can’t help but feel that these people deserve better. My impression was a specific impression: in other words, realizing that a person actually lived there, beneath an overpass, is something that I feel can’t be ignored, and it definitely opens my eyes to the fact that people actually live in these harsh conditions. At the beginning of our patrol, when we had our meeting, it was brought up that homelessness is lethal. I have brought this point up before in my writings, but it is important to keep it in mind, and my impression of this living space reinforces the importance of this notion. Because indeed, people are living in places that are not meant to be habitable, and I can’t imagine the toll that takes on a person. Also, as a side note, even though I am hesitant to talk about drug addiction, because it is a controversial and misunderstood subject, when we were picking up needles on this camp, I couldn’t help but imagine the person turning to drugs because they’re living in such terrible conditions and because they might be dealing with some kind of mental illness or even physical pain: They are essentially in a living hell and are looking for any kind of escape and relief. While I don’t mean that as a justification of drug use, for the first time, in a deep way, I understood why a person who is on the streets might turn to drugs, and I think that is important to keep in mind. This is by no means an overgeneralization, however, as I am not saying that all people who are homeless turn to drugs, it is simply an observation of this specific concrete instance. Also, I think it is important to keep in mind that I was making an inference about a person I had never met before, and the inference may very well be wrong. In short, I do not know enough to make an informed opinion. On a final note, something that stuck with me in a terribly important way is this idea that a person who is living underneath an overpass might, because they are in an unlivable place, feel inferior and even worthless as a person. Indeed, seeing this site for myself reinforced the notion that homelessness carries a lot of stigmas with it and personal baggage, and it must be very difficult to see yourself in a positive light when you are in such bleak and unfair circumstances.
It wasn’t all heartbreaking, however. We ran into a guy who had a cart, and we were able to load him up with crackers and water. He remarked that it would have been nice if we had had hand warmers, and we unfortunately had to tell him that we did not have any. It makes me sad to think about the various things that we are not able to do for this population, hand warmers being an example, but he was still nonetheless very grateful for what we did have to offer, and it was definitely a rewarding experience to interact with him, especially because of his kindness. As I was interacting with him, it was indeed very brief, but I kept wondering over and over again what his story was. I knew that he must have had a story, and when I was interacting with him, I couldn’t help but wonder what that story was. I hope that it was nothing too heartbreaking. Indeed, my thoughts go out to this individual, even though I will probably never see him again.
At one point, we had a blast, as our shoes were getting drenched and covered in the mud. One person remarked that they had gained ten pounds, and this was of course really funny, because it was really difficult to walk in the mud, and our shoes were getting covered in the mud. It was literally like walking in a swamp. But, it requires a beating red heart, right, and if we can’t take the mud, then what are we doing? But that didn’t stop us from joking that our shoes were scarred for life, that they were never going to be the same again.
As I talked with the team, I was able to come up with some very reasonable conclusions about why we do the work that we do. Often, I can imagine people asking, are we enabling this population by doing the work that we do? I think this is an unfair and insensitive question, but the response was generally that when people are that set in their ways and thought process about the homeless, there is little that we can do to convince them. This is because many people, or at least some people, take homelessness and homeless people at face value, and assume that they know what it is. This obviously isn’t helpful, but it’s the reality that we live in. Nonetheless, I am still committed to trying to convince others with my writing why we are doing what we are doing, and that we are certainly not enabling, but instead offering a helping hand, and it is important to keep in mind that there is a difference between the two. Indeed, I was reminded that our goal is to restore dignity, and we do that in the way that we can and in the way that we are able, being a humanitarian organization, and that is indeed why interaction is so integral to the work that we do. Because indeed, we are trying to restore the interactions that are missing between the general population and the population that we serve, and it is fair to say that interacting and talking can go a very long way, and the work that we do allows us to do that in a very fundamental way. It is also important to keep in mind that even though housing is an answer to this complex issue, it is not the final answer, it is not the only answer. A great analogy to this is the idea of what a person would feel like if they were suddenly given the keys to the White House. They would certainly probably feel very uncomfortable, and it does the same thing with giving keys to a house to a homeless person. Indeed, we must keep in mind that there are many issues in the life of any given person on the streets, and even though housing is a possible and important solution, it is not the only solution. This is because there are so many factors and variables that make a person homeless to begin with, and yes, having shelter is a great step in the right direction, but this still doesn’t address the underlying reasons of why a person may be homeless. This could include mental illness or drug addiction. I found out, in fact, that the number one reason why people are homeless is actually because of cancer: cancer is a sentence to live on the street! If you think about this claim, it actually makes a lot of sense, because who in our modern-day society, unless they are very well-off financially, can pay for the treatment required to treat cancer? One final remark that I think is worth mentioning is to remember that the people do not wish to live at the shelters. There are many deep implications to this remark, and I am simply leaving it here for further thought.
Anyway, this is why this kind of work requires a beating red heart. It is because it is not easy to absorb all of this complex and heartbreaking information. The only reason why I do even remotely well, given my crazily sensitive nature, is because I look at things very analytical and analytically, and I have a kind of philosophical and abstract detachment. I look at things conceptually. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with the issues at play, the very human issues at play, and that doesn’t mean the issues don’t take their toll on me. That, however, isn’t completely bad, of course, because it is a learning experience, and understanding the adversity of others certainly makes me more grateful as a person, and it makes me more determined to continue to let my red heart beat, and exist in this world.