Thursday, November 15, 2012

Homelessness as a Thinking Pattern

Who doesn't love a chart that classifies the logic, the thinking and the writing patterns of large groups of people? You know you love them. You must. I know I do. I am always in search of something short, easy to remember and true. Life gives us so darn many variables that I find it's nice to have a few simple truths. I am not sure if these are them, but Dunlap (Patterns of Thinking, 2009) specifies differences in logic and thinking and writing to people from certain areas.

I am fascinated by charts and codes that print out easily grasped outlines of generalities. As compelled to these charts as I might be, I also see the shape of what they are not saying. In art class, we learned to make notans. We learned that what is not there is just as important as what is there, in forms of images.  

Signposts are helpful to avoid cliffs and to remind you which direction you're headed but honestly instead of these types of musings or academic debates about the history of social work policy all I can think about is my homeless clients at work and how what I am reading can impact them, does it impact them and in what way.

All I can think about is the lack of services for people who are the most vulnerable. My pattern of thinking isn't just English (or American as Dunlap would have specified, due to my origins). Like everyone, my pattern is not that simple. We do not fit into spreadsheets no matter how hard we might wish we did.

I am stuck on the absence of what is present. Both what is there and what is not there are equally important, as we learned from the notan. There is much to be learned and grown in the vacant spots where there is no shape yet built. 

I want to hand out answers to the questions life asks me and yet all I have are more questions on which I perseverate. Such as this one. How can I work with the homeless and not be acutely aware (read: tormented) of what I (we) cannot (do not) offer them?

When someone is homeless, it can be a personal source of shame. They sometimes also wear it as a badge of pride. People become so adjusted to living out that they feel like a caged animal even sometimes just thinking about the idea of living under a roof. Mental illness, drug addiction, domestic violence, scars from before their trip to homelessness and scars gathered on the road become huge barriers to shifting the focus. It's not as simple as just finding a place to live in most cases.

You don't have to be homeless to have this thinking pattern of lack, either. Any of us can manifest feelings of unworthiness, self-defeat and why bother. We must persevere, even when we're too tired.

So, like all the other thinking patterns described in Dunlaps's pretty charts, I think we need to take this with a grain of salt. Though the notan shows us two sides, it isn't this or that so much as this and that.

Also, if you did not already click on the "too tired" link above, I encourage you to do so. It is a poem called The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and it's beautiful.



  1. I must say I agree Jessica, I too love these things that attempt to give me insight in regards to myself. This weeks assignment I had such difficulty seeing what cultural thought pattern I fell under. I honestly could not do it, therefore I just thought about how I talk and write and attempted to describe. It made me feel inadequate though that I could not see what category I fell in or if I fell in multiple categories. I think your words are wise I too see what these categories are not saying. It is so difficult to get away from putting people, ideas, concepts in boxes and just simply allowing them to be.
    I read the poem, and must say thank-you it hits home right now with a multitude of things going on in my life and is filled with wisdom. It evoked healing in me as I did shed some tears.

    1. That poem feeds my soul. I absolutely love it. I am glad you like it, too. Such wisdom.

  2. Truth infuses this post. A tangent of your observation that people who are in a state of homelessness often feel ashamed and also wear that shame as a badge of pride is right at the center, physically, of the homeless shelter itself. Alpha homeless gather around perpetuating the "lostness" (my word) as a reality without exception. This state of being is not, however, a reality for everyone who is homeless, even chronically homeless. Yet we feel pressured to view ourselves as urchins, worthless, stupid, failures, etc. When I lived in the homeless shelter, particularly in Ukiah but to a lesser degree in Fort Bragg, the men's single dorm room in Ukiah had around 30 to 40 or more guys. Many would badger me, and others, who didn't commiserate on being urchins, losers etc. I would have to retreat into myself and away from, socially and physically as much as possible, those who thought we were ALL to BE outcasts figuratively and literally. Otherwise, my observation is that the homeless mindset would prevent any or some of us from "seeing" ourselves under a roof, possibly indefinitely. Therefore, a roof over one's head would not suffice once this mindset infects and recycles without some sort of social prophylactic. One would have to be hyper vigilant socially and introspectively in order to both survive in this environment while at the same time be able to withdraw while in this environment (ALMOST impossible). Hence, the vicious cycle continues for so many of us. One homeless service suggestion would be to put major focus on a safe, stable, almost elementary authoritarian supervision with staff in and throughout shelters; as this allocation of people and resources would provide for the fundamental change for those who might make it.