Cale Byers

Brief Thoughts on Homelessness

November 18, 2017

Some lady was talking to another lady in the Fred Meyer lounge at Linfield, and they were discussing homelessness and its causes. The reasoning was that either homeless people have made a series of bad choices or that they have nobody in their life that loves them enough that they can live with. That's the thought process most people take.

"Poor people are poor because they make poor decisions."

Applying that logic to my life, you could argue that failing to get a loan and pay for overpriced housing was a poor choice. Indeed, it actually was. The lack of credit completion at Linfield this semester is more expensive than the cost of housing, so I ended up paying either way, and it was pretty stupid, because I actually paid more than I otherwise would have in terms of degree progress and student loans. But I don't think that's what they mean by poor choices.

They probably mean that you started using drugs or you lost your job or you got kicked out of a house. The assumption is that it's entirely your fault, ignoring any other external factors.

Someone would have to love you a lot to tolerate you, and give you free housing. So the only people that love me that much are my parents, and they are far away, and I need to go to school. None of my friends love me that much. But to be fair, it's not even reasonable to expect to live for free. I wouldn't let my friends live with me and contribute nothing in return. That's unreasonable, and nobody would ask that.

I tried to make connections and find roommates back in April and May, but I was excluded from the process, and the people who could have made a difference in my life (myself included) chose not to. I don't know the reasons, and I am not capable of making accurate judgements without knowing everyone's perspective and situation. To be fair, it's not reasonable to expect that I can just show up after a couple years and be re-absorbed into existing housing configurations.

But nothing is ever set in stone, and people did reshuffle their roommate selections. I was left without a bed in this game of musical chairs, and I think I had pretty decent relationships with all of the people I would have felt comfortable living with. So my point is that if even I couldn't secure housing with my friends/acquaintances, how can we expect that chronicallly homeless people are in a position to find connections and stability?

After realizing that I had no stability, it would've been appropriate to pay for college housing and not expect that couchsurfing would be a viable way to live.

I must have been unaware of the instability, because I couchsurfed from late-July during the IPNC up until the end of November.

I tried joining the Linfield Roommate Search Facebook group, and I was never added, and so I asked my friends to post for me, because they were in the group already. But they couldn't even do that. I think in terms of absurdity, that's the only particular element that I am entitled to be frustrated by.

But why keep focusing on it? I'm not bothered by the past at this point. For the purpose of writing, you have to dredge up the past in order to communicate a sequence of events and facts and feelings.

I am only focusing on these details for the purpose of this blog. Things have stabilized and worked out now as I re-write and edit this post in December. I started revising this late on the 6th, and it's now early morning on the 7th... I started writing this back in November but sat on it for a while, wanting to make sure I communicated what I needed to say, precisely the way I wanted to. I will come back and edit this post, but mostly to trim it and make it more coherent. I'm tired and probably should move sections and merge thoughts.

It's easy to just type something without considering other viewpoints, and that is risky. It leads to inaccurate assumptions. So I tend to delay posting anything of a personal nature until I've reflected enough to understand things better..

I believe that in some prior and current circumstances, or when around certain people, other people don't like being associated with me, and I don't think that's a fair viewpoint to hold. But everyone has reasons for their worldview and judgements, and it's too much work trying to understand everyone elses's interpretation of reality. It's literally impossible.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to understand others or empathize with them. I think generally people have a reasonable basis for their actions and decisions, and it's best to assume that people start from a good intention or a point of neutrality. But that assumption often is proven false by the way people interact with each other on a societal level.

Clearly, humans have negative interactions, so there comes a point when it's fair to examine someone's mindset, worldview, actions, etc when they negatively impact someone else's existence.

Without knowing why people make certain choices, you can either assume the worst or assume what makes the most sense. And being ignored and left on your own is probably the result of nobody wanting to be around you or not caring about you, or maybe quite sadly, both. I don't know how else to understand the housing/homelessness predicament I faced this semester. Because everyone just assumes the worst until they know otherwise.

Thankfully, I was able to get campus housing by getting loans. Also, I talked with an RA about my circumstances, and he suggested that I just live on campus for the rest of the semester. I considered it in the past, but for some reason I never seriously did so. After talking with him, I was moved in and much happier a couple days later. Perhaps without his positive influence, I'd still be couchsurfing up through finals week and struggling to get enough sleep to function.

It's convenient to assume that people who are homeless have been the sole determinant in their lifestyle. Aside from failing to realize that I needed to pay for campus housing, I don't think I made any particular mistake, and yet I was homeless for a relatively brief period.

It's nice having the privelege to take out loans and avoid the cold, wet, stressful existence on the sidewalk during an Oregon winter. Simply having a place where I'm legally and socially allowed to sleep and exist is very comforting and integral to my sense of stability and happiness. It's a huge deal.

Why can't we rationalize creating some form of safety and security for other people? Assuming that my period of homelessness is my fault ignores the other factors with society, the college as an expensive institution, or my peers' lack of inclusion.

Everyone's choices impact others' lives, and there's no escaping that fact. I wasn't able to understand that paying for college housing was the wise choice when confronted with the lack of housing back in August. I don't know why that was the case. But the important thing is that now I am stable and have security in my life. This will make things better, and I'll be more productive and focused.

Society at large doesn't want to acknowledge any role in the homelessness of its members. But when you fail to include people, fail to provide cheap housing, continue to increase wealth disparity, live in a country that encourages tax evasion, and generally hold a helpless and confused attitude with regard to other classes of people, you have to consider your culpability.

I'm know some homeless people legitimately have made bad choices involving drugs, violence, or other crimes. But not everyone has made those choices, so I need to figure out what people are doing and why they're here. It's not fair to lump everyone together. People have unique stories and reasons for where they are, and I hope to explore this in a photojournalism project over the next few months.

If I didn't have the college housing network to fall back on, I'd have to find a way to get a loan and get an apartment. Until I got to that point, I'd be without a place to live, couchsurfing or maybe sleeping out on the sidewalk. There are literally no other options when you don't have a car or any friends to live with.

Even if people have made poor choices, there are very few spaces and methods that can enable recovery or stability. I'm not aware of any serious efforts to provide safe spaces and pathways to healthier lifestyles for homeless people. Continuing to feed people is nice, but we have a much larger issue to solve regarding affordable housing and the distribution of wealth through taxation and social services.

I can't imagine that it would be a big project to create cheap housing. Something 100-200 per month for a bed, locking door, and shared bathroom. Basic. Bare minimum amenities would be so helpful. The economics are in favor of cheap/free housing for the chronically homeless, and then once people have a source of stability and safety, they can begin to recover and make progress. Homelessness in itself contributes to poor health, so if we want to make a positive change, providing housing and security is a vital first step.