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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mark 9:40 : Revisiting Brianna Karp

On Sept. 11th I posted about Brianna Karp and her "New Face of Homelessness." I received a lot of feedback about my opinions, both in person and in writing.
The one that caused me the most distress was this one, from Matt.

Reading this makes me very sad indeed.
She does not hold all the answers and neither do you or I but she is a deeply caring and courageous woman who wishes to help all those who are experiencing homelessness. I know this for a fact.
She should be both encouraged and supported by those who claim to have similar goals, not attacked for any shortcomings she may have.
"The vast majority of homeless individuals....want to work, and look for work"
Somehow you turned that into:
"And to intimate that only white, formerly middle class people are willing to work "and look for work," is offensive. It was an innocent mistake on her part, but offensive."
That is a massive leap for which I can see no grounds whatsoever. She 'intimated' nothing. Now THAT is offensive.
I choose to believe that your heart is in the right place too so instead of whining at her, how about getting behind her and helping her make the most of what I'm sure you will agree is a huge opportunity to do some real good?

Firstly, I would like to publicly apologize if I have come across as having all the answers. Because I know that I don't. I would like to apologize to Bri and to any of her friends and loved ones who think this was some sort of attack on her, because it wasn't meant to be. As I said in my post, I agree with the sentiment of her heart being in the right place. I would never hope that my words would take away from her courage or her caring or the fact that she is using her position to do positive things in the world.

The things I said were not meant to be malicious, but if they were interpreted that way then there is something wrong with the way I presented them. And so I will try again.

Bri never says that only white, formerly middle class people want to work or look for work. So it was unfair of me to say that in my post.
She does say that the overwhelming percentage of homeless people are drug free, have no mental illness and are formerly middle class. She reports that this vast majority of homeless people are the ones who would like to join the work force. I apologize for adding the qualifier of "white;" it was inspired by her sentiment that "most homeless people are like me and manage to blend in relatively well. " It was not, as I see now, entirely relevant to the point at hand. Nor was it helpful in my argument. My issue was and is with the line in the sand being drawn between "bums" and "non bums." I think the rest of my original post covers how I feel about that.

But I think Matt's real point was that the issue is moot anyway. The real point is that if I truly am an advocate for the homeless, as I claim to be, why am I wasting time finding fault with someone else who claims the same?

I think it's because over the past two years I have become very sensitive towards the marginalization of any of the people I work with. To draw a line between types of homeless people is hurtful because some concepts are not mutually exclusive, and it paints an unflattering picture of many homeless individuals.
Sometimes love can make us blind. I saw Brianna's piece as a threat to my patients getting public support and in my haste to defend them I neglected to acknowledge that Brianna was simply also looking to gain public support for a group of people in need.

My post did not successfully express any gratitude towards Ms. Karp, which I definitely owe to her along with my apology. My point in my post was not to whine at Brianna, but rather to expound on her idea; to say, yes, yes you're right! And you are beautiful. You are homeless and strong, and there are others like you. And you are speaking up for them. Becoming their voice where they had none before. Please, don't stop....but please also don't forget those who have a different story.

I applaud Brianna for the work she does, and for the positive example she sets for people in every walk of life. As I continue my own advocacy for human rights, I know that anyone working under the banner of ending human suffering is on the same side that I'm on.

I'm glad Matt posted because it made me continue to revisit my old ideas. I don't think we should ever stop what I see as a necessary and ongoing peaceful dialogue that can take place amongst us all regarding the nature of our work. This dialogue should empower us and inspire us to move forward.

So with all of this in mind, I reiterate these hopes:

That all people without homes, not just those who fall into certain socially acceptable criteria, will have access to the assistance they require to live the lives they dream of for themselves.

That all human beings will recognize themselves in the joys and sufferings of others and be moved to help those in need of aid.

And that all those working for peace, justice and love may be united over common goals instead of divided over differences in their work.

Thank you, Matt for reminding me of that last one.

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