A View From The Bottom

By  Pat Raphael


Photo by Katrina Brown

It is easy to fall, fall, fall — but climbing out? that takes work and strength. The view from the bottom always present a path out, but that out is usually directly proportional to the viewer’s ambition and willingness to hard work. In recent weeks change is coming, and my view seems to be climbing out of the bottom. Street People often have a hard time sustaining the on-the-ground organization required to create a movement. The transient and ever-changing state of our population means that the personal connections needed to maintain a common goal must continue, even as steps are being taken to travel a few rings up the social ladder. As the view changes from the hard pavement, to a cramped car, then an ol’ RV, and next some back yard garage… will there be any commitment to continue striving for the ones with no drive to attaining these different levels? Will we continue to empathize when we no longer share the lowly status of “homeless” Venetian?

I noticed my own language, that I usually speak in a way to separates me from the population in which I belong. Often Street People are ‘they’, even while I too am within that group. And this was a pattern of language that I also noticed among other friends who were on the grounds with me. This subtle piece of linguistic control helps to maintain the perpetual view of the homeless as the lowest dregs of society, so that even we who are sleeping on the beach are twisting ourselves through mental gymnastics to say that we are ‘houseless’ and not ‘homeless’. If the dirty homeless guy is always ‘them’, what reason do I have to ever give a fuq?

We have to continue seeing ourselves as one with the great human family, no matter how our lifestyle (and income) differ from that of our neighbors. When I begin to see the homeless as ‘we’, is it because I have internalized a negative self identity (and so am mentally giving up and checking out of society)? Or is it ‘we’ because I have come to see myself in my homeless brothers & sisters and want to stand with them in solidarity? Guess it depends on what day you ask. On a positive day, it is clear to see so much talent on the streets, seeming ever-so-poised to change the world… And there are those other days when we continue seeing that the best of us are always moving up (and moving on); and once gone, too soon allow our homeless neighbors to recede into invisibility after their view is no longer from the bottom.

I am writing to archive my personal commitment to never forget the many valuable lessons that this view from the bottom enabled me to learn. This is a reminder of all the awesome Street People that I’ve met along the way. As my view continues to change, I take with me all the love, the laughs, the tears felt in the community that we’ve created (r.i.p. Shakespeare and Dizzle). Where we are lacking in things, we overflow in soul. The love and sense of belonging experienced here are often sought among the affluent, but are lacking as walls and tight schedules compartmentalize and separate. Too often we only see the value of things that really matter after they are gone. During this passage through Venice, I am ever thankful that I got to see this View From the Bottom.

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