Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"No hopers..."



First...I'm OK!
It is funny when people know that you have "bionic plumbing" (Catheter and bag) they sometimes begin to treat you like an invalid. I have people who will not let me lift a table or seat around the Church, where as before they couldn't care how much I lifted. "Don't you go lifting anything!" they say. I had promised to help a lady move her furniture from one flat to another. Today the local Salvation Army man rang up and said we were moving her piano tonight. I went along. The Salvation Army man was at least 10-15 years younger than I and he had two strapping teenage sons to help. There was a horribly steep path with various flights of steps to get this very heavy piano up. I participated fully. I reckon I was as good as anyone lifting my end of the piano. I may be a little dysfunctional but I am certainly not an invalid. Actually while doing the job I thought of the stereotypical view people have of Church ministers as being wimps, not real "men" and of not much use.  Here we were, a Church of Christ minister and a Salvation Army Officer, both men of the cloth, picking up this heavy piano and walking it up the path! We were willing and able!  Many "worldly" men our age would neither be willing nor able!
Why introduce "No hopers..."
I want to introduce you to some "no hopers". Please understand I am not using this term in a derogatory fashion for the people I am going to talk about. It is a sad description of them.  Awhile back I visited a church group and talked about the Night Shelter. As I talked I realised that these people had no idea of the sort of people who would use a night shelter. I took it for granted that everybody at some stage experienced these people. But they don't, many live relatively sheltered lives. I spend every Friday night with some of them. Secondly I was searched out by a newspaper reporter the other day. He was asking about mental health patients, especially those who end up in prison, and I struggled to communicate their plight.
I am prompted to introduce them because of three factors...

  • Our Government minister Paula Bennett says there are plenty of jobs and the unemployed just have to get off their backsides and look for them. ... Sorry Paula can I suggest you visit our drop-in centre? We average 40+ through and only one or two have any vestige of hope of getting a job. 
  • We had a young man die in our botanical gardens because he was huffing gas. I had met this man and our night shelter had hosted him.  I was talking in a group about this situation and a man said judgmentally, "Well that's one loser less being a drain on society!" I have had people in the same tone of voice say, "Why do these poor people smoke? - losers." "How come they claim poverty and drink?" "Why take drugs? - no hopers - losers - scum." "Why buy expensive cell-phones - why try to run bombs of cars, or drive an unregistered unwarranted car?" Now I am as frustrated as any at the behaviour of these people, I have more contact than most. I do not want to paint them as saintly victims. But before you judge stop and think if you would be different if you were in their shoes. Some, given their circumstances are coping well.
  • I and others from the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust want to raise money to purchase the buildings we currently rent. We are providing emergency shelter in the front building, and transitional accommodation for people in the back building. I think the biggest hurdle we will have is that most of the people we want to donate have not met the people likely to use our facilities. Secondly, if they have heard of them, they do not understand their predicament. 
People of no hope...
  • Imagine... You were born into a dysfunctional family where mum and dad were not relating well, or mum had several partners and stormy relationships. Imagine that you were not born with an average level of intelligence, and you knew that from your hard experience of life. When others understood lessons, and could do things easily, you struggled and felt somehow "less".  You also knew it because your parents told you that again, and again and again. They maybe told you that you were "Dumb" "Stupid" or a "Dipstick." Your teachers told you that, possibly not in the same derogatory terms, but with their impatience, their ignoring you while they enjoyed the bright responsive kids, or their marking system reinforced your inadequacy. Your confidence is non-existent, even though you try to hide it by being bombastic and sometimes loud. You look at training opportunities and know they wont get you a job. You look at job adverts and sense you have no hope up against so many other job applicants. You hate applying because you know you will only experience the "system" saying you are dumb again! You struggle to read or read and write very slowly. Filling out forms simply scares you.
  • Imagine... You are born into a normal family experiencing the normal ups and downs. You do OK at school, somethings you may even excel at.  But you begin to know you are not normal. Imagine hearing voices that you cant explain! Or ... imagine feeling your normally reasonable logical brain slipping into illogical ranting, paranoid ways of thinking or deep dark episodes of depression. Your family has supported you, but you have continued to struggle, you have embarrassed them time and again. You have cost them money time and again. Because of your irregular behaviour you cannot keep a job. You lose it with the boss or a fellow worker or have too many days off. 
These are just a couple of scenarios. We could have a mixture of them. We could think of other sad and difficult situations that people face simply because of the accident of birth. You grow up in a house where there is nobody with a job and no sense of work ethic. etc etc. Now as you struggle with these issues our community becomes this super efficient community where people need to perform. There are fewer and fewer places for purely manual jobs. And if there are, you have to perform or you are out... there is a waiting line of able people needing work. As well as this even the most basic jobs often require some level of computer literacy... "Where is the 'on' switch? What on earth does that instruction mean?" There is really no hope of getting a job! You are stuck on the dole forever! There is little hope of forming a stable relationship, who would want you? You know you can never own a home. You can never take up an expensive hobby. You can never get a decent car. You will always struggle from week to week, year to year as a beneficiary... sometimes blamed for society's woes. What do you do? How do you react? What do you see in life? Just a long black hole till you die.  ... "I enjoy a smoke... It may kill me, but at least its some pleasure!" "These drugs or drink make me forget the drudgery and hopelessness of my existence. May as well imbibe!" "Those rich bastards have good stuff, if I just take some maybe I can enjoy some good things!" .... What I am trying to communicate is that by accident of birth people end up living lives with no real hope in them. This lack of hope, meaning or significance leads them to doing stupid, life damaging things. Maybe even violent things ... just to get some measure of pleasure or difference. I wonder if I was in their shoes would I act any differently? 
We have built a community where there is no place of dignity for these people. I believe it is the community's responsibility to have a safety net for them. ... so I am involved in the Night Shelter Trust. If our society spits them out the back we have a responsibility to provide for them. I also think we need to be trying to think of ways in which these people can meaningfully engage in the community. They end up on a downward spiral, which costs and hurts them, and costs and hurts society. It is not enough just to provide for them, they need somehow to also find "significance" and purpose. ... Perhaps, for the sake of people, we may need to be less efficient?  Anyway these are our "No hopers!" ... with no hope! What a terrible place to be? That is why I do stuff to try to make their existence better. I try to love them in practical ways..... though at times they drive me bananas!

1 comment:

Keith Harris said...

If your post was read and digested by everyone, many would be influenced in their thinking. Others would not want to know. Sadly, it will not be read by everyone.