slubs in the city

Slub (adj): Maverick; unorthodox; independent in behavior or thought.


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this is for you.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 7 billion people sharing our planet today. There are 7 billion people eating breakfast, talking on the phone, walking to work. 7 billion of us are brushing our teeth, becoming a parent for the first time, battling a disease, losing a loved one. Throwing a baseball, throwing a tantrum. Doing our homework. Singing and dancing. Shouting and fighting. Giggling. Weeping.

Over 7 billion people are living today. Isn’t it ironic, then, that in a moment any one of us can feel alone?

To date, our blog has been mostly about happy events and solitary reflections. But to me, the purpose of blogging – more broadly, of writing in general – is to chronicle a variety of emotions and experiences. Not every day is going to be a happy one. It can’t be, and it shouldn’t be, and that is a reality which every person in this sea of 7 billion must reconcile himself or herself to. Sometimes our day doesn’t end on a good note, but that’s all part of being one in 7 billion, and in certain instances a lack of Hollywood-like resolution should be embraced.

Aside from serving a functional purpose, in taking the bus I have found that public transportation can also provide a study in the human condition. I have overheard plenty of congenial and warm conversations, but I have also been witness to tense phone calls and outright verbal warfare. Some people quietly read a book or fiddle with their technology. A few listen to music.

Others, though, stare listlessly at their hands, at the passengers sitting near them, or out the window. Sometimes these individuals convey a sense of thoughtfulness, and I wonder what images or stories must be playing through their preoccupied minds. Sometimes they seem to imply a sense of weight, and I wonder what their lives have witnessed.

I was struck by these same reflections yesterday as I served an afternoon meal at a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Many of the individuals who wandered through the doors of House of Charity were polite, well-spoken and well mannered. They said “please” and “thank you”, just like my parents taught me to do, and they sat down to their meal with friendly conversation for whoever wished to join them at one of a few dozen communal tables.

Like on the bus, though, some of the individuals seeking a warm meal and a sturdy chair came to the shelter wearing their unhappiness on their sleeves. A few stumbled through the line, clearly intoxicated. A couple chatted nervously to themselves and to the servers. Many held their trays out to receive food, neither speaking with the volunteers nor making eye contact. Who has the right or the responsibility to judge their story? Who among us at the shelter was spotless enough to throw the first stone at the drunk, the drugged, the mute? I wondered at their lives as I passed out rolls and slices of bread. Some of those individuals no doubt had every reason to be heartsick. But while I was serving food from the other side of the table, with my own lunch waiting for me back at work, I couldn’t help but feel that our experiences might in some basic way be similar. I have felt the expressions of contentment and doubt that are reflected on the faces of bus passengers and meal-seekers alike register in my own features.

And yet their experiences are not mine, and mine are not theirs. Our world may be tumbling into the dangers of overpopulation but we each have our own lives to straighten out.

When I spend time wandering aimlessly through an internal dialogue on the human condition – what makes us be happy, and what makes us be sad – I find personal inspiration in the poetry of Brian Andreas. His written work is a mixture of simple statements and bold theories, and is illustrated by strange and fantastical representations of human beings that oftentimes I don’t understand. It’s one thing to document experiences with strangers on the bus and at the soup kitchen, but since Andreas has captured that quiet part of me that resonates with beauty and despair alike I wanted to end this post by sharing one of his best pieces. This is for you.

[image credit: here.]

con amor,

shan

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I drive seven minutes.

I drive 7 minutes on Monday nights to a homeless shelter to volunteer. Just 7 minutes.

A delicious co-op in our neighborhood. Appropriately named.

Now, the slubs live in the Wedge, an area in Uptown. We are surrounded by young urban professionals (yuppies), a variety of hipsters, a number of delicious restaurants and bars, and beautiful lakes. Homelessness and poverty have a clever way of disguising themselves in our neighborhood. But it exists. I drive seven minutes and have a concentrated view of how Minneapolis has been affected by homelessness.

This isn’t a post about how privileged I am and how blessed I feel (although I do). This isn’t a post about guilt or feeling bad. Instead, this post is intended for you to think about two topics close to my heart: volunteering and housing. (Also, sorr’ about the length. This is a looong post)

I work at an organization this year whose mission is, “to inspire excellence in the field of volunteerism to impact communities,” especially through the development of volunteer leaders. We truly believe that volunteers have the power to inspire change in their communities and work to foster that in Minnesota.  We are especially encouraged by the fact that the Twin Cities Metro is ranked number one in volunteerism for large metro areas and Minnesota is the third most volunteering state.

When we talk about marketing volunteer roles, we always talk about the benefit to our volunteers. What will they be getting out of volunteering with a certain organization. Is it a resume builder? Does it make them feel good? Are they able to utilize certain skills they have? What impact will they have on clients? I believe all of these reasons are great reasons to volunteer. Personally, I have volunteered for all of those reasons. But the number one reason I believe in volunteerism and reason I volunteer is the ability of volunteerism to foster and build community.

Like most people, I tend to only socially interact with people like me, almost exactly like me. Upper-middle class, usually white, college educated, socially liberal, etc. (oh yeah…and mostly women, but that may be because I work in nonprofits…). Volunteering is a great opportunity to get to know people that are part of my community but that I don’t interact with on a daily basis. It makes me feel connected to my community, and thus responsible for my community.

I drive seven minutes to a shelter in my community to volunteer. The shelter serves mostly men, although there is a small women’s wing, with emergency shelter for up to 28 days (90 days if residents choose to meet regularly with a case worker). It provides rooms for 2-4 men or women, a luxury in the world of homeless shelters, where many times shelter is cots or mats, hundreds at a time, on the floor. Like most emergency shelters, it is only open at night (doors open at 6 p.m. and men leave by 7 a.m.). We provide meals and according to the residents we have the best food in town thanks to some wonderful church and community volunteers, as well as activities, from job club to laughter yoga. We also provide toiletries, medical help, and more.

So you might be thinking, what do the men and women do during the day? Actually, many work during the day. Yes, that’s right, many homeless men and women work (Wilder Foundation reported that in 2009, upwards of 20% had a least a part-time job in Minnesota; with the tough economy this number has fallen a bit, down from 40% in 2000). For those who do not have jobs finding a place to go may be more difficult. During the winter if the temperature drops below 0 degrees or there is a major blizzard the shelter will stay open all day. Catholic Charities, down the street, provides day shelter. Many men actually choose to spend the day in the library as well: warmth, free shelter, and something to do. However, none of these options are open on Sundays…

Why homelessness occurs is a complicated question to answer. It disproportionately affects African-Americans (41 percent of homeless people are African-American; 4 percent of Minnesotans are African-American). 26 percent of homeless adults in 2008 had not completed high school. 65 percent have recently left correctional facilities. 55 percent have been diagnosed with a significant mental health problem. 46 percent have a chronic health condition. 33 percent report staying in an abusive relationship because they had no where else to live. In 2009, 40 percent reported job loss as the reason for loss of housing. 19 percent have served in the U.S. Military. But I want to stress the structural aspect of homelessness. Systems, not people, create and perpetuate homelessness. Epidemics are rarely individuals’ problems.

I volunteer because I believe that everyone deserves a home, a roof over their head, a house, shelter, whatever you want to call it. Safe and stable housing is essential to leading a happy, fulfilling, and dignified life. Volunteering reveals the obligation we have to one another (Appiah, anyone?). I feel connected to the wonderful people I work with in the shelter and I want to work to make sure that no one has to suffer the indignity of not having shelter.

And we should feel connected to the homeless, the marginalized, etc., because our decisions affect their livelihood, and theirs, ours. I don’t want to make this political because I believe that fighting poverty should not be a partisan issue. It should be about fostering relationships with people because they need a little extra help right now, and there is no shame in that. Sadly, however, the government must look to making budget cuts, and often these cuts affect social services and organizations that serve low-income people. Not including these homeless men and women in our economy and society means we are missing out on the talents and skills they have to offer. Your vote matters. It costs us (as individuals) more to have uninsured individuals go into the emergency room, than to provide them with health care (read T.R. Reid’s book, The Healing of America). We should want these people to lead lives that include housing, healthcare, education, and jobs because it will make our community better.

I drive seven minutes to commune and connect with people who deserve more than temporary shelter. And above all, they deserve a home and community that welcomes and supports them. Volunteer. We can make that change.

With hope,

Kat

Check out some great places to volunteer that the slubs have connections with (also Give to the Max Day is coming up November 16 and I am sure any of the organizations would also appreciate financial support!) For more general volunteering information visit handsontwincities.org or volunteermatch.org.

Northside Achievement Zone

Urban Homeworks

360 Journalism

Catholic Charities

Girl Scouts

MAVA (Special Plug: MAVA is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! Consider giving 10 dollars to support the amazing work MAVA is doing to keep Minnesota on the cutting edge of volunteerism!)

Junior Achievement

Our Saviour’s Housing

The Crisis Nursery

Dakota Woodlands

Ruth’s House