A Housing Parable

DSCN3920Once there were two men in search of a new place to live.

The first was an upper-middle-class white male with significant education and no police record. As he went about his search for a new place to live, he first had to decide if he wanted to buy a condo or a free standing house.

He decided to buy a house. This led him to develop a series of other questions which he referred to frequently throughout the process.

In what neighborhood would I like to live? Is it close to public transit(for when I feel like transiting) but far enough from the freeway? Are there plenty of trees or wide open spaces?

What is the crime rate in the neighborhood? How much will I have to pay for home-owners insurance? What kind of security systems will I need to have in place?

What is the neighborhood like? Are the people friendly or stand-off-ish? Are they older folks? Families of young children? What percentage of them look like me?

Will I be able to see my neighbor’s house from my windows, or will I see something lovely like a hedge, or my own back yard? How big is the yard and what direction of sun shines onto it?

What is the house like? Does it have all the bedrooms I want? All the bathrooms? Can I get the master-bath with the jacuzzi tub?

What is the appraisal of the house? Is the roof new? Do the pipes leak? Are there strange gases coming from the ground? Are there hardwood floors under the ugly carpet? Are fixtures included in the price?

Can I paint? Which walls and windows can I take out? Perhaps I’ll add an extension to the house someday.

Does the kitchen have extra space, an island and an snack-bar? Does the sink allow for me to attach my quadruple water-filter? Are the counter tops and cabinets the kind I like? Are there enough windows? Is the layout open and inviting?

Does this space shout out peace and hospitality as soon as I walk in the door? Can I picture myself being perfectly comfortable here? Is this my dream home?

The second man was also white, and actually made it through his first year in community college…a long time ago. He used to be upper-middle-class…twenty years ago before he successively lost everything to a life of trauma, addiction. In his search for a place to live, he had to decide whether to try to access a local shelter, or to try to find a good tent to set up in a nearby field.

He opted to try to access the shelter systems. This led him to his own series of inquiries.

In what quadrant of the city is the shelter? How far would he have to walk after taking how many buses and trains? How early in the afternoon(or mid-morning) would he need to arrive to stand in line in order to be included in dinner that night?

What is the crime rate in the neighborhood? How hard will it be to avoid drug dealers if I want to try to stay sober? Which gang owns this territory? Do the police come here and, if so, are they the police will see me as a person or the police who will see me as a problem?

Will I be robbed in my sleep? Will I be stabbed? Will I be sexually assaulted? Will staff misunderstand my emotions, think I’m on drugs and quickly kick me out?

What is the shelter like? How many beds does it have? If they let in more people than they have beds, to the extra people get mattress on the floor, floor mats, or just a blanket? Private shower stalls, or communal shower heads? Will I get a locker for my stuff?

What is the appraisal of the shelter? Does the roof leak? Is there mold? Are there bed bugs? Is there lice? Are there roaches? Are there likely to be drugs hidden in my mattress? Will there be a window that opens?

What are the staff like? Are they also in recovery? Are they peers who have also been homeless? Will they think I’m sub-human? Will they preach at me? Will they respect me? Will they help me get my life back in order or assume I am hopeless?

How many nights can I stay here? Can they help me into long term housing?

Does this place allow me crawl in for a brief respite? Are the barriers to entry ones that I can overcome? Should I even try?

The first fellow took his time. Declined a few options. He decided he didn’t need to move that urgently; he could wait until next year.

The second fellow did everything that was asked of him. The first night of his stay, his symptoms of mental illness collided with the symptoms of another shelter guest and they fought. Staff decided they were too dangerous and both were excluded. The fellow spent the night under the front awning of a seedy cafe. He would try again tomorrow.


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