Dear President Trump,
Recently I was on the periphery of a conversation that kept dipping in and out of tense territory. It never quite landed squarely in the squirmy zone, but it still had me wishing it would end much sooner than it did. The first person involved made a compassionate, yet practical, argument for hospitals to address homelessness among their patients by intervening with permanent housing for them. A second person suggested that she also highlight how housing can stabilize people so they are able to work and become productive citizens who are giving back to society.
I felt myself tense at this suggestion and found I was saying the same word over and over in my head ~ “dignity.” I couldn’t figure out how to inject it into the conversation at first because it smacks of right-wingy scolding as in “people need the dignity of work”, and that’s not what I meant by it.
There seemed to be a general over-interpretation of what the second person was saying as someone else chimed in and said that having a safe, secure place to live shouldn’t be contingent on one being a productive member of society. While I agree with this sentiment, I don’t think the second person was suggesting there be contingencies, just expanded possibilities. And still, the repeated emphasis on becoming productive citizens who are contributing to society as a central goal of providing secure housing felt off. I finally went ahead and added in the idea that dignity and respect are crucial for people’s well-being, but in the broadest humanist sense, not in a one-size fits all, “thou shall work” sense.
In response to the pushback, the person arguing in favor of helping people so they can be solid citizens referenced La Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, a collection of art by prisoners, mentally ill people, and “loners.” She said that many homeless people probably have genius gifts they could share with the rest of us if they had stable housing. She then explained the museum grew out of art left behind by asylum inmates after it had been shuttered that was later found by an artist/collector. My take on this is that the people who created those images weren’t making them for someone else to marvel over or for posterity – they were doing it for themselves or maybe to share with a friend, perhaps to work out demons or to pass the time. There are dozens of possible reasons that have nothing whatsoever with “art” or “audience” or redemption or productivity.
I shared this quote by Julius Goat with you a long time ago and it seems apropos to what we are talking about here (ok, what I’m talking about here):
“Every human being is a unique and irreplaceable work of art carrying intrinsic and unsurpassable worth.”
May we all be safe and securely housed.
May we be willing to set aside confining, excluding ideas of work and worth.
May we care for every unique, irreplaceable human’s health.
May we all make peace with our own and everyone’s intrinsic and unsurpassable worth.