Saturday, August 18, 2012

What’s happening in Walla Walla regarding discipline should be happening in Homeless World Sacramento

I got a little teary reading a report, “Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%.” What is happening at that school should be adapted and then used as the model of what to do in Homeless World Sacramento.

And what is this thing, this new disciplining approach? Instead of near-automatically ejecting people [sometimes, permanently] who act up or have a burst of inappropriate anger, the high school asks the offending student what is wrong and how his life is going.

From the article:
A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, [school principal Jim] Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly: “Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”
At Loaves & Fishes in Sacramento, where the administration people are addicts to dispensing misery, homeless people who are the most vulnerable to getting themselves in a sewer of unhappiness are the quickest to be subjected to the no-tolerance standard of that ghastly organization.

Consider: Loaves & Fishes has THE monopoly on faithfully feeding homeless people in Sacramento in the middle of the day. Because homeless services is most radically NOT a competitive enterprise, whoever is there first with, you know, “an element of service” runs the show without any competition or oversight whatever. They just ‘do their thing,’ be it evil or good, for ever and ever and ever. The Delanys [Chris and Dan] set up what began as a soup kitchen thirty years ago and Loaves & Fishes abides by their backward principles for now and for always. As much so for Sacramento charities as it is on Wall Street, the boards of directors are selected ‘in house’ and are lackeys to the real powers that be. They are “boards of directed,” not boards of directors, truly. Birds of a feather, flocking together. And homeless people are the ones that get flocked.

Variations on the following happen over and over again:
I have a friend, I’ll call him Fred. He has a heart of gold but he gets intense from time to time. At the mission, he was focused on getting the preachers to talk against the practice of abortion. He was told by the able night manager that the mission schedules groups to provide worship and a message of their choosing with the only proviso being that their understanding of the Bible be literal. The mission plays no part in determining the topic or specifics of a sermon.

Still, time and again, Fred would complain bitterly of the lack of message that condemns abortion coming from the pulpit. Sometimes, Fred would go a bit wild. There is one story of Fred being highly agitated in the upstairs dorm room such that he needed to be ejected so the other 59 guys could get some shut-eye. But Fred was adamantine about the rightness of his cause, and the necessity of his complaint being addressed immediately. He refused to leave the dorm. The Program Guys, who run things, had to drag Fred down the stairs in their effort to put him off the property. It is said that the sound of “thump, thump, thumping,” as Fred's butt hit the steps, one by one, and his caterwauling was quite loud and that the guys who were eager for sleep laughed and laughed.

But as much as my wonderful friend Fred could be an irritant, he was never gone from the mission for long. The night manager and his assistants understood Fred, his personality and his dire situation. He was welcomed back to use the mission’s many services after short periods of banishment.

Of course, Fred being Fred, he was banished from the library and from Loaves & Fishes, as well, for reasons I don’t know. Typical for people like Fred, my friend has a great (but wayward) sense of pride and would not take the steps that might re-connect him to the services of the library and Loaves. I, and others, advised him that after a period of months all he might need to do is be contrite and ask for re-admittance to the library and Loaves. But rehearsals with him asking “to get back in” would result with him getting his back up and veering off-script to make the argument that he should never have been ousted from those places in the first place.  Fred simply was not constituted to 'do contrite.'

Being without the services of Loaves & Fishes meant that Fred’s source of food was dumpster diving. His circumstance deteriorated precipitously.

Fred is no longer in Sacramento; he's moved to the Bay Area. He is getting services there where he is still his troubled, big-hearted self.  I know this since we communicate over the internet.

Fred was unable to see his own actions objectively or to doubt that what he believed and did were the right things. There is a significant population of homeless guys who are like Fred in many ways. You could say that they are the source of their own undoing. But many have clearly evident mental-health issues that take over their lives. These, these are the people who most need homeless services, but paradoxically, they are the ones of us targeted to be denied at ethically-upside-down charities like Loaves & Fishes.

Fred would be a lead-pipe cinch to get a disability income, but with his wayward pride and curious logic, he disbelieves that he is anything other than the epitome of right thinking and, thus, ineligible for a disability check. While in New York City, and perhaps Chicago, functioning people can be made eligible for disability income without their explicit consent, that is not so in Sacramento (unless I am mistaken and things have changed rather recently).
Back to what’s happening in Walla Walla and what should be happening here:

In Walla Walla, behavior problems are addressed, instead of having people get stomped on. That doesn’t mean the high-school students aren’t punished, when appropriate; they are. But what is different is that an effort is made to address the problems, at their deep source [upbringing; addiction], and to not further upend people’s fragile lives.  The effort to be compassionate may sound weenie-liberal to many but it has been transformative at Lincoln High. It has lessened behavior problems and kept students in school-room seats, instead out on the harsh streets where the kids' problems are exacerbated.

The directors of Friendship Park at Loaves & Fish, the prime gathering ground for homeless folk, should be reticent to ever banish anyone and when there is a need to put people out for a while, it should be for a very short duration. And when the period that someone is banished ends, or even before then, Loaves & Fishes should find ‘the lost sheep’ and fetch him or her back with welcoming arms and a ham sandwich at the ready.

A Walla Walla-like effort would restore the lives of many homeless people and it would certainly transform the Orwellian hellhole that is Loaves & Fishes, if that is at all possible.

As for the mission, much of what Walla Walla does is a part of its transformational Rehab Program. Of course, with the mission the compassion is dispensed in a Christian framework. As I wrote earlier, the mission is less punitive and more aware of individual homeless people and their circumstance than knee-jerk, purblind Loaves & Fishes.
We are relational beings. The damage to our sense of self that we experience is nearly always relational, and if there is to be healing of that damage, that too must be relational - it requires mirroring, validation, and the sense of human connection that is vital to sanity for all of us.
- Bill Harryman    .
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Note:  Since the Akin thing is hot news these days, I feel I should add that I, the author of this essay, am in accord with Hillary Clinton with regard to abortion.  It should be safe, legal and rare.  That is, women who do not want to become pregnant should assiduously safeguard against pregnancy.  But should they become pregnant, their bodies are theirs and they should have access to having a safe, legal abortion.

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