"Poor choices" and stupid magic
Many letters to the editor (and online comments) try to perform a certain kind of dark magic with the incantations “drug addict” and “poor choices.” This sleight of hand (or is it sleight of mouth?) is designed to trick us into thinking that some very troubled people can be transformed from human beings into something less.
In this world of magical thinking, a person without a home who is also addicted to drugs is no longer allowed to be called “homeless.” They are simply and exclusively a drug addict. They are stripped of all other identity. One of the many things absent from this attempted magic trick is recognition of the fact that many folks without homes became homeless before they became addicted to any substance. The word magicians don’t know what to do with this fact so they simply hide it behind their magical thinking curtain...and – poof – we now have no reason to consider these folks worthy of anything but scorn, continued misery and jail. It’s a convenient way to avoid dealing with the complex realities of these people’s lives and dealing with a serious and difficult community challenge. In the meantime, the subjects of their magical incantation are still living outside -- and homeless!
And then there’s the “poor choices” word trick. To elaborate, I’ll start with the really good choices I made throughout my life. I chose to have caring parents. I chose to have parents with resources to provide well for me. I chose to be born white. I chose to have parents and teachers who encouraged me to do well in school and go to college. I chose to have positive activity options offered to me as I grew up. I chose parents that could loan me a bit of money to help me make a down payment on a house 35 years ago. I chose to have a grandma that left me $5000 in her will that ended up helping me start a small business. I chose to become a millionaire (on paper, at least) by simply watching my home quadruple in value while I did almost nothing. Clearly, I made some great choices-- so I get to be housed and comfortable.
On the other hand, so many of the folks that are homeless made one or more of these poor choices: Chose to grow up in an impoverished or homeless family. Chose to have an abusive or addicted parent. Chose to enter the foster care system and then into an uncaring family of foster parents. Chose to go to a crappy, underfunded public school in a high crime area. Chose to have a learning disability. Chose to be injured in a work accident where the insurance was inadequate. Chose to be thrown out of the house at 15 years old because parents rejected one’s sexual identity. Chose to come home from war with PTSD. Chose to be beaten by an abusive spouse. So many “poor choices” a person now experiencing homelessness could have made. And, then, because of these so-called “poor choices,” the magicians make what truly is a poor choice and decide to set the addicted person aside from the rest of us deserving humans.
The only trick these magicians cannot perform: they cannot make these folks disappear. (Though they do wish for it much of the time!!) And herein lays the folly – the illusion – in their approach. We are all still here - the housed and the homeless are still here.
In reality, we’ve all made some good choices and some poor choices in each of our lives. Some of us hardly pay any price for our poor choices and others pay a very high price. (Here’s a stupid question: Why do some addicted people still live in nice houses and get excellent, supportive treatment while others live outdoors along the railroad tracks with no support and no treatment?)
Nobody wants people addicted to drugs committing crimes and leaving unhealthy messes around our community. But it’s time to move beyond magical (and stupid) thinking and continue to implement solutions to homelessness and addiction that are practical, effective, based in reality, and recognize the individual humanity of each person experiencing homelessness and/or addiction no matter how troubled and unpleasant they might seem to be.