The situation of men and women who are experiencing homeless in our state and across the nation has become more apparent since the pandemic of 2020. Individuals and families have fallen from situations of housing stability resulting from increased housing costs, medical problems, and an inability to find work commensurate to what was previously earned pre-pandemic. Men and women from various backgrounds are now in the lived experience of homelessness. In the state of Arkansas, 2,459 persons experience homelessness, finding some form of relief within either emergency shelters or transitional housing (HUD 2022, Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Program Data). The lived experience of homelessness is a touch point regardless of gender, ethnicity, or health situation.
Persons who are experiencing homelessness possess what John F. Crosby describes as being “persons who are unrepeatable” (Crosby, 2019). Individual persons who have found themselves standing on street corners to secure coins for hotel stays, who are accessing various local nonprofit and faith based services in our county, or sitting in a public school, are not to be lost in the category of homelessness. These individual persons can not be replaced as objects nor ignored to satisfy our individual comforts. Rather, these persons possess an outstanding unrepeatable quality which translates into 2,459 individual stories and experiences. Individuals who possess a dignity and richness which is obscured by our focus on the experience and the associated stereotypes. Crosby asks each of us to take a moment and look beneath the tired eyes, the aroma, and the disruptive classroom behavior to see the unique quality of the person before our eyes.
The last two years have admittedly been difficult. Individuals from all walks of live have experienced varying levels of difficulty regarding sickness, financial challenges, occupational difficulties, and social interactions. In my estimation, I would not seek to compare nor weigh which difficulty was greater than the other. Individuals for a number of reasons confront difficulties in different ways but what is clear, individuals experience suffering.
Suffering impacts the physical, emotional, and internal self. An individual in the experience of suffering faces the dark night of the soul, taking the moment or long moments to assess him or herself. I may not like what I see within myself. The thoughts swirling in my head may be negative working to pull me further down into this seeming ocean of difficulty. At the same time, I may find within myself a determination which I did not know existed within me. It is this second revelation I want to offer as a precious find.
Suffering is hard. It is rough and such items can act as a serving instrument to reveal what is underneath. The rough and rugged experience of suffering acts in service to our individual lives to reveal what has always existed. What can be revealed is determination, patience, boldness, or a number of other human characteristics which exemplify the beauty of the human soul.
Life is hard. It sounds so cliche but I believe it is important to acknowledge your anxiety, your tiredness, and frustration. I completely understand all of these emotions because these are emotions I have wrestled with in my own life. So you are not alone. You, like my self, are fellow travelers on this difficult and hard road called life. A life filled with disappointing politicians, social situations which have divided family members, friends, co-workers, and even the oldest of religions are not exempt. These are difficult times in our state but I need to tell you even in the oppressive atmosphere which weighs heavily on our hearts and minds, I believe better things.
Believing better things means we need to have courage. Courage is acknowledge the hardness of our situation but also having the courage to stand up and meet these hard situations head on. We have to stand up, walk out, and meet these concerns of tyranny, oppressive governments, divisive motivations and meet them with courage. These need to remember our names and these shadowy experiences need to know first hand these dehumanizing attempts to restrict our flourishing as human beings will not go unchallenged. So I believe better things because it not only requires courage but also hope.
Hope that what is near to human beings is not the dark, oppressive, and anxiety inducing experiences which seek to order life but hoping in a future in which the light of our courage and the hope there are more individuals who want to be free and live and love outside of coercion and shame. A courage and hope the shadowy places of the human experience will not prevail but what will warm the faces of your heart and mind, as well as mine, is the bright day in which we can tell future generations, “I was there. I was there with courage and hope and we won the day.”