Smashing Stigmas by Dan Davidson

Today’s really been a day of reflection for me.

 

I started my day out really early, building a website and a blog on Smashing Stigmas.

 

Before I left the house I did my routine to set my intentions for the day and ask Divine to guide me where I am supposed to be.

 

I then was picked up early by my good friend Jennifer. We went to meet the rest of our crew where we prepared 900 burritos, and set up bags of clothes and hygiene supplies for when we go out and be of service to the homeless downtown at the homeless shelter and surrounding area.

 

The people with Legacy Initiative that I get to serve with are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I am blessed to be serving with such giving heroes. They teach me so much about being humble.

 

We Feed the Streets every first Saturday of the month. The effects from doing this work are humongous. I get so much joy and grace from doing this work. It also makes me grateful for what I have today. I might not have much materially, but I have more than money could ever buy me.  “My cup is half full, not half empty.”

 

The homeless live in the middle of such a terrible stigma. The stigma behind

homelessness is such a barrier for people to excel and get back on track.

 

If society would just get educated.

 

It’s time to put down the labeling and putting human beings in a box.

 

I talk with my brothers and sisters struggling and the majority of them lost their homes from drug use.

 

The other day I talked to a man named John.

 

John explained to me that he ended up homeless because his wife got sick with cancer.

 

The hospital’s bills accumulated to the point to where when his wife got sick and passed away, he couldn’t pay the medical bills and ended up losing his house.

 

There is story after story of situations where people have lost their housing, their homes, their jobs.

 

I know a lot of people who suffer with the dilemma of having barriers because they have got into trouble because of a substance use disorder or mental illness. As a result they end up with a criminal charge that does not allow them to be eligible for hiring or for housing.

 

In Salt Lake County alone there’s an incentive for landlords not to rent in most neighborhoods. It is called the Good Landlord Samaritan Law. What this law does is it gives landlords a tax break for not having felons in certain neighborhoods.

 

My goal is to see that this law goes away. What needs to happen is if a person has put their life back together and they’ve shown the community that they’ve become productive members of society, they need to be allowed a chance.

 

Once again I will go back to the statement that stigma is building barriers preventing people from putting their lives back on track. We need to educate the community. Putting human beings in a box and putting a label on them has got to stop.

 

The struggle is real. In my line of work I watch people time after time that have worked really hard to put their life back together. And in their Journey they have a barrier where they cannot get employment or housing because of a criminal charge.

 

The system we have is broken. A lot of individuals do not have the tools or the skills to maneuver their way around these barriers.

 

The barriers become a road block, dead ends. When individuals hit these walls they can’t get around. They go into survival mode and go back to what they know, which is a life of crime of doing drugs and whatnot. Eventually they get caught and they get put back into the system that is broken. It is a revolving door.

 

We have built a system that can stigmatize individuals with a criminal charge and cripple them. So why can we not build a system that can follow people who have turned their lives around and are headed in the right direction?

 

It is my belief that we need a new system. We need a system that tracks these individuals that have proven themselves, and shown that they turned their life around to be given a chance.

 

Mental illness and substance use disorders are not a choice. They are a brain disorder and need to be treated as such.

 

On our journey of our service project today, some of us witnessed a very large man beat on and body slam a woman and punch another.

 

When I approached one of the ladies, her shoulder was totally dislocated. She asked for help, she asked if I would call 911 for her. I called the ambulance and explained to the operator that this lady needed an ambulance and she needed one fast.

 

Here again, we see how stigma effects the homeless. An hour after the phone call I made, an ambulance or the police still hadn’t shown up to the scene. This was because of the area we called from.

 

This could have been your sister, my sister: your mother, my mother. This could have been my daughter or your daughter.

 

After we had finished the service project and we were done, my best friend took me to go check on my daughter.

 

I found out that two days prior to today my daughter had been revived from a heroin overdose.

 

So my friend and I went to a meeting. We walked in in the middle of the conversation. I started talking and sharing a little bit about what I was going through. The next thing I know, an individual turns around and tells this other individual if you’re looking for people to work with go to First Step House on Wednesday night when they have a meeting and you’ll find some losers to work with.

 

I was astonished. I asked this man, what did you just say? We’re talking about people who are in treatment trying to get help and you’re going to call them a loser. Why is our society so driven to feed into stigmas?

 

I personally make a commitment to dedicate my efforts to help change laws that build barriers. I commit to do my share to educate the ignorant. I commit to do all I can to be a voice, to smash the stigmas that are preventing our society from reconstructing a broken system.

 

–By Dan Davidson, Community Advocate and Peer Specialist

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