Sunday, July 18, 2010

The "New" Scarlet Letters

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel, a woman accused of adultery was forced to wear the letter "A," a symbol representing the accusation. While we have moved passed forcing public shame on a women for committing adultery, history demonstrates society merely moves onto a new "letter" representing the thing to fear. Today, being gay, Muslim, having AIDS, being "illegal," have become the new labels driving fear and hate. Another, apparently, is the label "homeless." Listen to ourselves as we talk and you hear the language of fear and loathing applied to anyone homeless. We don't want a person is homeless anywhere near us, and particularly, we don't want them to move out of homelessness and into housing near us. God forbid they have become homeless and additionally live with mental illness.

No matter over 4,000 different Tulsans in any given year lose their housing for all sorts of reasons and become "homeless," having to turn to our shelter system in order to avoid having to sleep on the streets. No matter 70% of these individuals never return to homelessness during their lives once they are able to stabilize, secure income, and locate affordable housing. To think about it, "apartments," affordable housing, and heaven forbid, mental illness are labels we put on people we want to avoid and have living somewhere else.
The sad irony of this, of course, every family in America, either has, or will have, someone who has experienced homelessness, lives with a mental illness or a alcohol or substance abuse issue, lives in a low cost apartment, may have been convicted of a felony, or may at one time or another have more than one of these labels that apply to them. But in our most shameless form of hypocrisy, somehow, the fear that is attached to people carrying these labels applies to someone else, and not to my Uncle Joe, my cousin Vinny, my brother, Aunt Mary, or my nephew. Shame on us!

1 comment:

  1. I spoke with a family member about a recent discussion I had among a group of people about a certain movie in which a person who had be marooned on an island befriended a ball. Someone in the group said that it was in the moment the ball became a friend that all creditability of the movie was lost to them. When I asked why, they said, "Well that's just crazy!" I cannot relate the number of levels of wrong I felt that statement to be. I can mention one opinion I have.
    We all need friends to help us through. Now, what's so "crazy" about that?
    The Mental Health Association in Tulsa, is a friend to the homeless population in our area--a friend when these humans need it the most.