Olympia's Heart: A Coalition of the Willing

We have choices about how to approach problems in our community. We can look at a thing like crime or homelessness (problems not as synonymous as people think)and decide to place responsibility for it on those responsible. No one can tell you not to blame the guilty, if you want to take that upon yourself. But how do you determine, for instance, who is responsible with regard to homelessness? Many believe that the individual is responsible for their own circumstances, however difficult. I guess I believe that too, on some level. I've seen people be unreasonably decent as often as I've seen the opposite, and I can only chalk it up to free will.
But if you spend much time working with homeless people trying to get off the streets, you find that many of them are stuck in catch-22s. For instance: the state has determined that they are unable to work due to a serious disability, but their monthly disbility income is less than $400 per month, and there is no subsidized housing available.
Or they have been clean from drugs for a year and a half, are attempting to regain custody of their children and right those they have wronged, and a felony drug charge keeps them from getting a job, getting into any apartment in town, or going to school.
Or they are so traumatized from war or abuse, and have been repeatedly retraumatized on the streets, that they have lost all sense of common reality and cannot recognize a single ally in their life. Maybe it seems like they need to just get over it. I have found it very hard to say that to someone who was raped by their parent as a child, or who has seen other humans blown apart in war. I just don't know what it is to live in the aftermath of something like that.
I can no longer approach human beings as either responsible or not. I have had the privilege to know many bad people. Bad people have changed me. I have known and cared about people who were meth dealers, sex offenders, child abusers, schizophrenics, junkies, and "homeless-by-choice".
Perhaps that sounds backwards to some people. I don't condone the bad things people do, or trust everyone I know to do good. But I encourage every person in the world to take on having a deeper look at bad people. Resolve to not see them as bad. I have known some very good bad people. I believe its only when people can be seen as good that they can take on the responsibility for some of the bad things they have done.
Most of us have a side of ourselves that we'd rather not be defined by. It is a wonderful public service to refuse to define others by the worst things they do or have done.
One thing I value about Olympia is that I think a lot of people feel this way. When I am downtown, I know the business owners, baristas, bums, stay-at-home-moms, street kids, police officers, bus drivers, librarians, musicians, even the drug dealers. We say hello to one another. We grow accustomed to our routines together. Someone drives the 47 bus, someone begs on that particular corner, someone opens shop promptly at 10:30, someone drinks coffee and bullshits Sunday mornings, someone always orders the same thing and leaves the same tip. We notice if someone disappears for a while. There is a shared sense among a lot of the Olympia community that we all belong here- that we're part of a whole, and that Olympia would be incomplete without any one of us.
I cannot tell you how much that means to me. I would never want it to be any other way. Everyone should know their neighbors in this capacity. Everyone should know their town crazies by name, and worry when they don't see them for a while. When you are a part of this you have a family that is greater than your bloodlines. It feels amazing to have so many people matter to you.
There is cruelty here, like anywhere. There is pretension, racism, insanity, desperation, loneliness, violence, bad manners. But there is also a huge number of people who choose to allow every imperfect and unlovable person to have a place of some honor in our community. This "coalition of the willing" does not represent every resident of Olympia, but we are, I believe, her heart.


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