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The Homeless Walkabout

I love watching the homed and the homeless interact.
They are like people from different countries.
They look the same. They talk the same. But yet there are distinct differences.
Generally, the homeless understand the homed. That’s simply because all these people lived in homes not too long ago.
But most homed people have never been homeless. So they are the ones that are typically caught off guard by some of the behaviors of the homeless.
There are a few unique behaviors some of the homeless exhibit. But the one I want to talk about today is the homeless walkabout.
Simply put: some of these people just disappear.
No one knows where they go. They don’t leave a note. They don’t give you an idea of when they’ll be back. They are just gone.
It’s disorienting for everyone involved. Even other homeless people.
It’s not like all homeless people do this. But it’s enough of a segment of the community that it is clearly a behavior that is a repeated pattern.
It’s very much like the walkabout that happens in the Australian Aboriginal society.
Wikipedia says, “Walkabout has come to be referred to as “temporary mobility” because its original name has been used as a derogatory term in Australian culture, demeaning its spiritual significance”
I think temporary mobility is a better phrase.
The homeless are practically the living incarnation of “temporary mobility.”
They have been spit out by society. And very often they quickly acclimate to the homeless lifestyle. Moving from place to place to place. Being kicked out of some places. Being forced to move out of other places often because the drugs and violence is too much to bear in other places.
They quickly lose their fear of mobility. All of their things fit in a small backpack. They have no ties to anything. No people. No things. Nothing.
And so they become untethered.
That’s a feeling that sticks with you.
This causes constant irritation with non-aboriginal employers in Australia. They don’t understand it, don’t respect it and can’t plan around it.
We have similar difficulties here at Second Chance Village.
All heads of departments like, maintenance, kitchen, lot coordinator are run by villagers. And all people under them are villagers.
One morning on one of the coldest days of the winter one of our elders was nowhere to be seen.
We all suspected he maybe left for a few days. But as I thought more and more about it I started to worry.
I went out to his tent. I called his name a few times. There was no answer. Finally, I had to open his tent to check. I expected the worst.
But he wasn’t there.
I don’t know where he goes. He never tells us when he leaves. And he never talks about it when he comes back. It’s like an entirely different life he has that none of us know anything about.
And that’s the way it is for several people.
Single women. Old men. Couples. People with pets. The only connection between these people is that they are homeless.
This repeatedly confuses, frustrates and sometimes hurts volunteers.
A volunteer will hire one of our people for a long-term job. They will be completely committed to the job for several days. And then they’ll just not show up one day.
The volunteer usually calls me worried and irritated.
This is a trait among homeless people that will always make traditional work very difficult for them. Just as it causes difficulty for the Australian Aborigines.
These are people that likely may never be suitable for a traditional 40 hour job the rest of their lives.
That’s not to say they don’t work hard. The opposite is true. These people will bicycle all over town all night long dumpster diving. For $30 they will detail your car for 8 hours. They will gladly take all your metal garbage and scrap it for cash.
But flipping burgers for 8 hours all day every day is probably not going to fly. You’ll be lucky if they tell you they quit. More likely they’ll stop showing up and never pickup their last check.
Successful people in society like this are called entrepreneurs. I haven’t had a job in 20 years. Not only am I totally unsure anyone would ever even hire me, I’m not sure I could actually survive a “job.”
Washing windows or selling apples on the street corner sounds WAY more enjoyable to me than someone telling me I need to show up every day at 8:15 and I can only wear jeans on “dress down Friday.”
I believe we need to help the homeless learn basic entrepreneurial skills. Like finding a sellable product, marketing it, pricing it and selling it.
You see them doing this everyday. These are our panhandlers. They panhandle because they know that it is a product that converts at a decent conversion rate. It pulls at people’s heart strings. It works ok.
In big cities like New York you’ll see panhandlers add certain skills to their repertoire. They’ll play an instrument. They will do some kind of street performance. This requires an audience that is walking. A driving audience is too difficult to entertain. A compelling sign is about the best you can do in Akron.
I do, however, think they need to test different products. We are moving towards creating our woodworking shop. So, maybe they can create items to sell that people will buy.
We just have to help them succeed with the skills and temperaments that they have. And we, as the housed community, have to help support them and believe in them.
Throwing people away hurts more than just these people. It hurts the fabric of our entire community.
So, if you ever find yourself wondering what happened to the homeless person you were having a perfectly lovely time with yesterday, don’t take it personally. They just needed to go for a walk. They’ll probably be back in a few days like nothing happened.
 

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