Filed under: J840 Week 6, Local Events + Action, Society + Media | Tags: Community, homelessness, Lawrence
What is the punch line for this event? It happens 31 times a night in Lawrence; 31 people win the lottery and all receive the same payout.
These winners are tonight’s residents of the Lawrence Community Shelter (LCS). LCS can legally house 31 people at night. The 31 nightly residents are determined by way of a ‘lottery.’ Hundreds of others, non-lottery winners, spend the night outside avoiding city police patrols.
We moved to Lawrence almost two years ago, and my definition of the homeless population was quickly defined by the panhandlers on Massachusetts St., the Lawrence Journal-World news articles, and ensuing political discussions in the Lawrence community.
Window shopping on Massachusetts St. is frequently interrupted, not by requests for money, but by demands from panhandlers. Adorned with dreadlocks, dirty clothes, backpacks, dogs, and attitude, they smell of body odor, push the limits of ‘indecent exposure’, and are covered with tattoos. One young man went so far as to inform us that he would not use the money for food or to feed his dog, but for booze (he expected points for honesty, and said so). All appear lazy; either uninterested in working or unwilling to work.
In asking questions of a staffer at LCS, the answers surprised me:
The panhandlers on Massachusetts St. are normally not LCS residents; many are drug addicts from the Gaslight (the local derelict trailer park), some are lodging with friends (technically homeless) and panhandle for income, and others are from the tent city by the river. The last group is comprised mainly of people that choose to be homeless out of a sense of individualism; this is their rebellion against society. Most LCS residents seek employment and many are working, saving, and dreaming of the home they hope to soon occupy.
My impression of the homeless in Lawrence was tainted, incorrect, and incomplete. The LCS residents taught me that I need to develop some humility and appreciation for my life. In our current economic times, I am one of the fortunate. This article spells it out, sadly, but accurately; “Additionally, millions of Americans are, at this moment, “precariously housed”—only one paycheck or catastrophe away from the streets.”
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