Friday, September 2, 2005

What do we do?

We are all disturbed, no doubt, about the stories of violence and looting in Louisiana. What a sad turn for this disaster to take!

Further, I'm sure there are those out there talking about “what a bunch of animals these people are,” I've already heard words to that effect. And to be sure, the some of the stories of violence have been horrific (How can a rape happen in the midst of the Superdome without someone knowing about it and stopping it?!)

And it is pretty easily for some, for me, to cast blame on “these monsters.”

But we must remember that there are no such things as monsters. These are people. People in a terrible situation. People, perhaps, who've not learned to be a responsible part of society, but people nonetheless.

Perhaps they're people like some of my friends with mental illnesses. Some of my friends raised poorly in poverty. I'd like to offer a couple composite descriptions of some of my friends and ask for some good thoughts.

Gus is 45 years old and has no job. He has mental issues that have led to his being fired from every job he's had. He's had violent outbursts that are part of his psychoses that have led him to being barred from seeing his family.

In good times, Gus lives in an apartment paid for by the state. Lonely and angry but seemingly unable to do anything productive with his life for long because of his issues. In bad times, Gus is on the street and off his meds. To look at Gus, he seems healthy and capable of working (and he is physically healthy and capable of working).

Yet Gus' life is a spiral of homelessness and living with government help.

Samantha is a 22 year old mother of four. Except, her children don't live with her. They were taken away because she was an unfit mother. Samantha is expecting another child in a couple of months.

As she's living in a tent on the river (where she was raped earlier in the year, leading to this pregnancy), she will likely lose custody of this child soon after she's born.

Samantha ended up on the streets after running away from home at the age of 15. Her mother's boyfriend had raped Samantha, leading to her first pregnancy. Samantha's mother's story was much like Samantha's.

With little education and a very difficult childhood, Samantha doesn't know very well how to take care of herself, get a job and hold it, tend an apartment or do much that we take for granted.

Gus and Samantha are the types that conservatives love to hate. “Worthless! Dangerous! Need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like I did!”

And yet, Gus and Samantha just can't pull “normalcy” off. Or at least, they haven't yet.

So tell me, what do we do with Gus? With Samantha?

And I'll tell you right now, I'm not writing this essay so that my conservative friends can deride my friends as “human waste who should just be sent to jail to rot,” so don't bother writing that sort of response.

I'm serious. What do we do with people who've not learned how to make it in our society?

My family is a part of a church that really tries to help our friends in dire straits, but even with the support of a community of wonderful people like those at church, it's not easy. We lose some of them and are of limited help to most of the others.

It's almost as if they need to be adopted as adults by someone or some community with time to work with them indepth, but it's hard to find someone willing to take on that kind of challenge. (And, of course, I know one of the bigger answers is to get help to them when they're young – to tighten our societal safety net – would be the wise, compassionate and fiscally responsible thing to do. But that's a different essay.)

As we raise our anger at those misbehaving in Louisiana and grieve over those in our own lives we are unable to help, I'm just wondering – in those hard cases – what do we do?


madcapmum said...

This is something very close to our family.

It's just really, really hard. You have to allow for individual freedom of choice, try to respect the bond between parent and child, and yet not allow children to grow up abused because of their parents' and grandparents' histories.

It would seem that "adopting" adults would be the answer, except for the fact that they're so disruptive and dysfunctional that it's almost impossible to do that without destroying your own family or sanity. Plus, unlike fostering a small child, they can decide to up and leave, which completely breaks down any possibility of working through "issues" that block healthy living.

Once in a while, someone breaks free of the past crap and leaves it behind. I have several friends who were raised in horrendous situations, and yet somehow managed to pull out and become happy, functioning individuals.

All that to say, Dan, that I don't know. I guess a person just keeps trying and sometimes the seed falls on fertile ground.

Eleutheros said...

What to do with Gus and Samantha? First, were it not for 45 years of liberalism, they would not be a problem.

The world is full of Gus's and Samanthas. At one time they fit in because the only definition of 'job' wasn't a 30 mile commute to a cubicle. Every business, small businesses mostly, had a Gus or Samantha somewhere who did what they could, got paid what the business could afford, and was generally looked after by the rest of the poeple.

Comes those advocating for the poor and downtrodden and say you have to pay minimum wage (often with benefits) and conform to all sorts of regulations. The places that once looked out after countless Gus's and Samanthas can't afford the liability of having them around.

So they end up on the river bank and on the street where their psychoses, that otherwise managed to stay in check, run wild.

I've known many a Gus and Samantha in my life. I know a few now. My favorite produce stand has one, relative or friend of the family that ones the stand. Ostensibly he helps fetch things and load things, but he's more in the way than help. None the less, everyone knows its a way for him to be looked after, have some pride, and keep his self and his mind out of mischief.

Want to absorb every Gus and Samantha into some useful position where, even if they didn't fully "fit" in, they'd at least better their lot? Eliminate the minimum wage and most employment laws.

All good intentions have bad unintended outcomes. In the rush to protect workers and enhance their lot, we've squeezed Gus and Samantha into the street.

Marty said...

We have a "Samantha" middle aged adult family member... living with us, a year now. Not much progress has been made...I'm growing weary and tired of her. I've already raised my children. At what point do we become enablers? I have no answers.

The church where I work became a Red Cross Shelter as of 1am this morning. We are open 24/7 for as long as needed. They are busing in those stranded at the Houston Astrodome. Pray for us. It is a huge undertaking for a small church and will require a lot of volunteers.

olympiada said...

I feel no anger and little grief. Going through my own personal disaster knocked a lot of those emotions right out of me.
What I do feel is gratitude for my little girl, gratitude for where I live...awe for the fact that we are allowed to live in peace...and sorrow for those who lose everything. But people suffer around the globe. And in Buddhism, we learn to get in touch with the universal suffering.
We don't have to have the answers.

Kim said...

Insightful post as always.

Having been in NOLA, these people are not evil, dangerous and "bad." The media had a field day with the whole situation. On a local news station yesterday the reporter said, "The reports of looting and violence are highly over stated...what would you do in a situation like this."

And this is just it. It is easy to sit in your chair and cast stones.
"Let those among you with out sin be the first to cast a stone"

This is not an economic or cultural thing - imagine if the Ohio River crossed Her banks (which could happen if global warming contiues). What would all those folks do? Well, there would be mass pandemonium - this is not a geographic oddity. If California falls off the edge of the Earth - even the hard-core veggies will be eating what they can, meat or no.

Inside all of us is this desire to sruvive. Indeed, from the moment we were formed, we tried our best to stay alive. Imagine what it was like 2,000 years ago - when there was no FEMA, no NWS or NHC.

NOLA is in my blood - She touched me like many other places in the US/Canada/Mexico have. You cannot walk into the Cathedral in Jackson Square and not feel the presence of something bigger than yourself. NOLA is not just a party town, it is a place of deep faith in the Divine.

This event, as I will say til the day I die, is more than a "look at the evil Mr. Bush," or "those poor people down there," or even "what can we do to help the poor and mentally unstable." It is a sign of things to come if we don't change as an American Culture and a world culture.

I am heart weary with grief for those who have lost (I have lost friends, too). NOLA is full of good people...may She rise up to her fully glory with speed, dignity and Ligt.

Truthful said...

Dan, It seems many of us have dealt with someone in our community with mental illness. A troubled past exacerbates the problem.

Often times in depression the mind is stuck in the emotional upheaval of some past event or current bad situation. The bible says, "As a man thinks, so is he."

I've been stuck in a rut myself and thought I had no reason to be happy. Then I read somewhere in the bible that it says," To be happy." It didn't say, " Be happy when all is well." So I decided to smile even when I didn't feel happy and to wave at people I didn't like. You should of seen the shocked look on their faces. That in itself put a joy in my soul. I decided to focus on others instead of myself and wa-lah the doldrums that lasted years left. Now I'll grant the fact that I had a good upbringing, which I'm sure made a world of difference in lifting my depression. But the thought life of a person is at the very root of many of our problems.

Even in the pro-sports world they tell atheletes to visulize the process of winning an event. On the other end of the pendulum, there is such a thing as victim and poverty mentality. I've had both.

I don't have the answer for the serious mental health issues. But I've walked many a friend through the valley of helplessness and despair. And it starts with "As a man thinks, so is he."

What to do in the hard cases? Pray and ask for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then obey the call.

Kevin Condon said...

Our Samantha is a sister-in-law who is bi-polar. She is impossible when she is manic and lugubrious when she is depressed. She goes off her medication in order to "feel better", which works for a few months until her next episode. My wife tries to help her but in a pique, she refuses, accusing my wife of grudges and imagined crimes.

One of the other commenters said that he was concerned that we are pushing these people out onto the streets. I think he is right. When our sister gets mean, she is usually arrested, sometimes in another state, where she is sprung from imprisonment by the local ACLU lawyers, though we are moving heaven and earth to get there before she is back on the streets. This insistence on the rights of the insane is a big part of why the insane are on the streets. According to their "protectors", they have a right to be.

Then there are those who "lump" the legitimate homeless in with the bums and hobos. This gives bums and hobos a right to public drunkenness, public urination and defecation, to assault and insult the public, and to hold as much cardboard in the air as they want on the corner of their choice. They have a right not to have a job. They have a right to daily bread, provided by churches and hunger programs, though they will not work, even if offered a job. I'm not talking about the legitimate distressed, single mothers, displaced New Orleans refugees, runaway youth or insane.
But there seems to be an industry organized around the poor, which benefits from the "lumping". In Denver, the city is going to provide an apartment to all homeless, which should draw homeless bums from all over the country. The purpose of the program is not to help the homeless, it is to move them out of the toney development area where the old brick buildings can be turned into lofts and sold.

So, I get the problem. I don't know how to solve it either. We need more compassion, not less, for the legitimate homeless and a hard, tough love attitude for the bums. We need smarter policies and laws that differentiate and protect the insane and identify the homeless.

Son of Lilith said...

I don't know what to do with the Guses and Samanthas of the world. The only way for any true type of aid to work is for me people to be caring, compassionate, and open-minded. Try making that happen, especially in this country.

I fully advocate, however, assisted-living faciliites. Perhaps if a camp was set up where Gus and Samantha types could do work, get paid, basically live in a self-contained bubble. They may not ever be ready for re-introduction to our society, and yes some with mental illness/poor circumstances are "dangerous" under normal social circumstances, which is why a controlled environment would work.

And Dan, I admire your effort on Mike's America but I have to say, give it up dude. It's not worth the effort. I crash the party from time to time but for the most part he's just a grumpy old man who refuses to listen us commies even though what we say is true.

And yes, he is a former EPA employee...under Regean. Ouch.

Deb said...

That is THE question, Dan. What do we do? I don't have any answers. It makes me sad.

I've left a homesteading board I used to post on because there are "Christians" on it who are totally trashing the victims in New Orleans, saying they are all worthless lazy trash who sit around waiting for the government to help them. Some have gone so far as to say they all should have WALKED out of the city when they were ordered to evacuate.

I wonder why there is so much mental illness anyway? Is it a reaction to our heartless, industrial society?

Marty said...

We have 75 evacuees at the church where I work. One of them is a young woman who is a medical tech. She has been offered a job at a hospital about 10 minutes from the shelter. All she has to do is show up for the interview, then the job is hers. She has been offered transportation if she needs it...Has she gone?...Not yet.

Dan Trabue said...

Thank you all for your comments. Welcome to Truthful and Brandon. I've been down sick a couple of days but I appreciate the comments. Difficult problems we face.

Lord, help us help one another.

Dan Trabue said...

Eleutheros, as to your suggestion about the minimum wage:

I know that you don't believe in money (and make a decent case for your argument), but to do away with the minimum wage and benefits would have a negative effect on a good number of people, seems to me.

Maybe there would be the positive outcome of employment for those less able to "make it" in our system that you mention, but as you've often pointed out, our actions and policies often have unintended effects, oftentimes negative ones.

Further, many of the people that I'm talking about have problems fitting in at any place of employment and need assistance beyond a gracious employer. This is part of the reason that I believe in working towards increasing a sense of community, as it seems it sometimes if not always does take a village to raise a child.

The Scrutinator said...

dt: "I'm not writing this essay so that my conservative friends can deride my friends as “human waste who should just be sent to jail to rot,” so don't bother writing that sort of response."

It seems noone did respond this way. Are you encouraged? Perhaps that attitude toward the mentally ill is a caricature, reinforced by a tiny fringe.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for pointing that out Scru. You're right. It does encourage me that no one responded thusly.

I've perhaps been spending too much time with that tiny fringe here lately?