DENVER, CO —You do not belong here. Those are the signs strategically posted throughout my city to remind people who have nowhere to belong that we don’t care about them as much as we care that their poverty remains invisible to us.
We have designed our cities and systems of care to negate responsibility for our neighbors and to blame people who have nothing for existing at all. You cannot even sleep on our dirt and when you decide to shit in the alley we will arrest you. Sorry there are no bathrooms. You do not belong here. You do not belong.
Homeless people are not a problem. The problem is us and our unwillingness to see people who are homeless as our neighbors. They are not the problem, we are! You are! I am.
Not me who prays and goes to Church and takes my children to soccer practice. Not me who donates to charity and serves meals at soup kitchens. Not the you who argues with your friends at the bar about Trump’s policies. That is the good you! I’m talking about the me and you addicted to our oblivion. I’m taking about the you and I who turns away from making eye contact less we make time to be human or maybe even Christian.
One morning I was being swept by the police not ten feet away from Snooze, a hip breakfast diner where the patrons had a front row seat to the atrocities being committed against their fellow neighbors. The police, poor people being swept systematically and you and I eating pancakes without a care in the world. As though it were entirely normal that people have their basic shelter stripped away from them when temperatures are sub-freezing.
It could easily have been me eating the pancakes or taking my girls to a baseball game or on my way to an important meeting. Oppression is domesticating. We are colonized by an entire normative framework designed to keep us from disrupting our comfort and convenience. I worked hard for this warm latte and to hell with everyone else, I have a busy day ahead of me. God I wish somebody would do something. (I have no idea what to do and so I don’t do anything.) Don’t worry girls, the police are here to help them. (Really? What else should I be telling my eight year-old daughters.)
We have built sand castles around our profane delusions to protect ourselves from our collective complicity. Our complicity becomes duplicity when we actually believe the lies so that our neighbor can be swept away while we return to eating pancakes. Evils is no joke.
It is we, not them, who do not have the courage to be human. It is we who have lost our humanity. There is the rub. Our oblivion has a cost. It does not matter that we know it or not. The proof is in the city we have failed to create and our willful malevolence.