Three weeks ago a historic meeting took place. It may not have repercussions that change the nation, but it was significant for Gresham, Oregon.
The event was this: a group of forty homeless people met and talked about what services they wanted for their community. This may seem insignificant. After all, community and neighborhood meetings like this take place in every urban neighborhood in the United States, every month or two. How can one community meeting among a small group of homeless people be important? It is important for many reasons, but most of all to show that the homeless are interested in working toward solutions they have chosen themselves
Most of the time “solutions for the homeless” come from well-meaning middle class folks or professional lobbyists, assuming that they knew how to solve “the homeless problem”. In this time, the homeless came up with three ways they want to help themselves, with some help from others, but they are willing to put in the necessary labor to begin and to maintain all of these solutions.
Although most of America have wanted the homeless to help themselves, but rarely have the homeless been given an opportunity to speak for themselves. Every community has problems, whether the urban homeless, a small town in a rural area, a minority Latino population in Los Angeles or a primarily white suburb of Miami. What is often forgotten for the poor, however, is that any solution that is created for them must also be created by them. If the poor are given a service without their input or assistance, then a number of effects occur:
-The poor don’t feel they need to work for it, because the service was a free gift
-The values of the middle class are promoted, instead of the values of the community being serviced
-The goals of the poor aren’t met because the poor weren’t consulted as to what their goals are
I believe that if a community—any community—is to be assisted, the community must own the assistance. This can be seen in a single individual. If a person wants to make real change in their lives, from overcoming addiction to maintaining an exercise program, he or she has to want that change, without any outside pressure. It is a cliché, but still true: “If you are going to change, you have to want it for yourself.” If this is true for one person, it is certainly true for a community. If real change is to happen for the poor, then the change must begin with the poor.
It is my hope that this meeting in Oregon might be replicated among every needy community all around the world, and that the service workers might listen to the solutions, asking for continual input and volunteer labor from those receiving the services. In this way, there may be an infrastructure for the needy that would actually support the needs and goals of the needy. And then, as more become needy in our ailing economy, the power to help themselves would already exist for them.
I believe that the seed for helping the poor is within the poor community itself.
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