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Ain’t got no home in this world anymore

They’re the American refugees, our homeless. Now you might be thinking, “What do you mean our homeless? I didn’t make them homeless. They’re not my responsibility.” And strictly speaking, you’d be right. But as a society of people that has chosen civilization, its laws and its accepted behaviors, we have shared responsibilities in its upkeep and maintenance. When we have people living on our streets — roughly 580,000 in this country — it’s obvious something is amiss in our world. Too many people, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, can’t make it here and must drift from place to place, outcasts in their own land.

I’ve met some homeless people, talked with some and heard their stories. As different as these stories were, the one thing all had in common was that they’d fallen on hard times. A couple had been professionals, some were well-educated, and others were just ordinary working people that dropped through a hole when life collapsed around them. If not for fortune, this could easily have been my fate, and I’d venture to guess the same is true for many of you.

Yes, there are alcoholics, drug-users, freeloaders, and ne’er-do-wells in the ranks of the homeless, as well as mentally disabled people. Nevertheless, they are all human, feel pain, know sorrow and joy, and some knew love in their lives. All people deserve, at minimum, access to sustenance, shelter, and safe harbor. Those sick with addictions to deadly substances deserve care and treatment, as do the mentally afflicted. These fundamental needs, as made clear in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” penned many years ago, are the responsibility of a civilized society — our responsibility, all of us.

We care enough for the welfare of dogs and cats to provide shelter, food, and large doses of love to stray animals, as well we should. How is it that we do not feel as strongly about humans among us with those same needs? Is it because we blame and fault them for their misfortune, and therefore the hell with them? No doubt that’s true of some of us, but for those of us that know better, that understand our fortunes could easily have turned, it’s not that hard to withhold judgment. Who among us never needed a helping hand at some point in life?

It’s estimated that there are at least 3,000 people homeless in Sonoma County, a number of whom are children. They’re nomads, living in makeshift camps or small groups, consistently rousted by the police and forced to move from place to place. A homeless person cannot lay down on a bench, sleep in a park, or rest for any period of time in any public place. It is against the law in many states to be indigent; it’s called vagrancy. They are guilty of the crime of being poor. They have no place to go to the bathroom unless they find a public accommodation. Even to stop and rest is a crime. Consider for a moment how you would fare in those conditions.

In 1938, Woody Guthrie wrote:

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a roamin’ ‘round Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town. And the police make it hard wherever I may go And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore

In 1986, Paul Simon wrote:

Homeless, homeless Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake Strong wind, destroy our home Many dead, tonight it could be you Is it not time for us to correct this?

-Will Shonbrun