Portland Perspective: Discipline, Homeless, and … What?

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Forgive me if I am oversimplifying. This is a blog, not a research paper…

We all choose our lives. Depending on our spiritual beliefs, we may have chosen our paths before our lives began. Every moment presents a choice: Will I get out of bed when the alarm goes off? Will I run first, pray first, or pee first thing in the morning? Or maybe I will sit on the couch and eat Hershey’s dark chocolate toffee bites. All of our choices add up to habits over time, and habits form our lives. Self-discipline is merely a habit of making our bodies do things our brains are resisting; we eventually train our brains over time to do the workout, the laundry, the cleaning, the math homework, etc. without having to convince or cajole.

But how do we reconcile this choice-habit concept with homeless people sleeping under trees, waking up to roll up their cardboard box spring and sleeping bag mattress to live their day on the streets? Do people choose to panhandle for spare coins? Do people choose to leave all of their belongings except what fits in a garbage bag or a shopping cart, and walk the town for hours on end?

I don’t know. I spent only a few days in Portland this week. I saw so many homeless young adults that it started to look like they were choosing to camp in the streets. But we have to question that conclusion. Would anyone would choose to live on the street unless the alternative really wasn’t there: no home, abusive families, no job, mentally or developmentally incapable of self-sufficiency, and more. How many people who would choose to sleep in their shoes every night and wear the same socks for weeks on end? Or to sleep out in the open, on a bench, the only protection being your right arm thrown over your eyes.

My biggest fear getting divorced was that I would end up homeless. The picture of my children and I, living in a shelter, wide-eyed, dirty, and hungry filled my nightmares. That was the crying core of my fear of living alone. And seeing these young adults, just 5 years older than my children, of course makes me wonder if my children will find their way or will they be carrying a garbage bag with blankets in it down the street, with their ill-fitting, dirty coat, missing the 3rd button?

They started to look like body bags, laying there in the mornings, with their heads tucked into their sleeping bags. I wanted to dehumanize them, to assure myself they weren’t an alternative me, or my children. That comforted me for a moment. Then, I saw a woman crying walking along the sidewalk, hugging herself. Next, I saw an arm stretched out over his partner’s bag, protecting her. Another man carefully strapped his complacent cat onto the back of his bicycle with an old bandanna. And then, by the side of the street, I saw 2 sleeping bags, side by side. One long and lumpy, with shoes carefully paired up next to it, shoelaces tucked in. The other had long greasy blonde (girl)hair coming out one end, and a chic-book by her side.

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