Sunday, April 26, 2009

A One-Wall-Home

Last night, following the first flicker of lightning I headed out to the balcony. I love thunder storms and the fragrant, cooling rains they bring. I like the thunder, too because it reminds me of fireworks which I adore. Enjoying the view, I noticed a fire by a ramp retaining wall in front of the Kennedy Center. I watched just in case it started to spread. Then I realized who had lit it and relaxed. A long line of tourists on the KenCen terrace took flash pictures of each other and the great views then scrambled indoors when the rain started. The campfire weathered the first shower pretty well, dying down only slightly. When the winds and brief downpour finally arrived, the flames wavered and died. I've seen the OWH fellow often inasmuch as we're neighbors. His home, however has only one wall, no bathroom or kitchen or any other basic necessities of life, like a roof. He leaves his home every day for parts unknown to me. He dresses like a student and in no way looks like he has no home. He walks at a slow, deliberate pace and minds his own business. I have no clue how old he is, but we've lived here nearly 20 years, so he may be close to 40 if not older. There are plenty of people from my generation who fought in Viet Nam and now live on D.C. streets, perhaps hoping to be noticed and cared for by the military/medical establishment that abandoned them so long ago. Now that the military is acknowledging the realities of post traumatic stress syndrome, it may be too late for lots of these guys. Their minds and bodies may never recover from the trauma of Viet Nam. But I digress. I hope the OWH fellow isn't a vet suffering as a result of military service. I'm sure I'm not the only person who notices him and wonders how to help. Shelters clearly are not the choice for many homeless persons. Nevertheless, humanity dictates that the rest of us care for the least of us. How that is done without further traumatizing, I'm not sure. A small trailer park was set up some years back to house some folks who were living on the edge of the Whitehurst Freeway, across from the Watergate. On the surface, it sounded like a good idea. Forced into close quarters, however, wasn't good for these people, even if being there protected them from rain, snow and extreme heat. When I worked for a charitable design foundation, one of our clients was an organization called Housing Opportunities for Women. HOW owned several houses, in the District. Homeless women were given their own bedrooms and shared cooking and cleaning duties. A professional "house mother" checked in with them and took care of house business. One morning, I sat down for a chat with several of the residents and discovered a variety of reasons they were living there. Some were better at socializing, while others preferred to remain alone and detached. My mind swirled with visions of abuse, neglect and desperation. [There but for the grace of God. . . .] Still, these women took pride in their personal spaces and possessions. I theorize that women, because of our nurturing and peace-making traits may be better able to get along with each other. Men, on the other hand, are the hunters, guardians and providers. When their role is taken away due either to their own mistakes or circumstances they feel they cannot control, they tend to turn inward and away from others. Admittedly, this is speculation. I have no degrees in psychology or sociology. My theories are based on observation. So. . . . . Perhaps my OWH guy is content with his situation and enjoys the changing seasons as much as I do. I doubt that anyone bothers him because his homestead is difficult to reach. Somehow, he is able to feed himself and keep relatively clean. When Spring brings leaves to the trees and shrubs around him, he becomes nearly invisible. I think that's what he wants. What do you think?

1 comment:

Mark said...

I think you are correct. It sure is a tough issue to deal with, isn't it. The answers we have for the homeless might not be the answers the homeless want.