April 4, 2017

"Houseys" — people who have housing but nevertheless "sleep out" sometimes like the homeless.

Who are these people... and do they deserve to be ticketed for "unauthorized camping"?

Some are activists for the homeless, trying to gain information and experience to help them with their advocacy. But some are (we're told) "Zen practitioners" who "organize meditative 'street retreats'":
Critics might object that “this is a kind of voyeurism or spiritual tourism,” said Sensei Joshin Byrnes, who lives in a New Mexico monastery. But the goal is in fact “to really change our own hearts and minds and the way we view people who we commonly think of as the other.”

Participants in his programs, the shortest of which last four days, are asked not to shower for a week beforehand and arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs, $1, a form of ID, and perhaps a blanket or trash bag for protection from the weather.
I have 5 things to say about this:

1. Should a city be able to criminalize "unauthorized camping"? If you think the answer is yes, would you make an exception for people who have nowhere to go?

2. People living on the streets impose burdens on the people who are managing to take care of themselves by maintaining housing. If you do have a house, you shouldn't choose to add to that burden. It's not a nice thing to do to the people who own or rent housing in the area, and it's making the truly homeless people seem more burdensome than they actually are.

3. The fact that you are concerned with the condition of your own heart and mind does not absolve you of the charge of "voyeurism and spiritual tourism." Thinking well of your own good intentions and religionish loftiness can make you even less sensitive than most people are to the impression they make on others. You can absorb yourself with the way you "view people who [you] commonly think of as the other" and lose track of how other people view you.

4. When is it okay for people to pose as something they are not? Isn't dressing up as a homeless person and acting like them — when you could go home and take a shower and sleep in a bed — a kind of disreputable fakery? Isn't it like Rachel Dolezal taking on the appearance of a black person — not for mockery but out of empathy and concern for people who didn't choose this status? If it is, which way does that cut — pro- or anti- Dolezal?

5. Your imposition of yourself in an environment that is not your own changes that environment. This is a problem I have with travel that is aimed at seeing what people are like in some exotic place. You don't belong there, so it's different once it has you in it. Do you think you are improving it? Do you want to look at the impression you are making on this culture you are curious about?

23 comments:

Curious George said...

1. Should a city be able to criminalize "unauthorized camping"? If you think the answer is yes, would you make an exception for people who have nowhere to go?

Yes they should. Exceptions, no. Well, except for John Rambo. Definitely an exception for John Rambo.

Mrs Whatsit said...

The word for this is "slumming."

rhhardin said...

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges.

Rob said...

Participants are asked not to shower for a week beforehand? If they really aim to have an authentic experience, shouldn't they become schizophrenic or alcoholic beforehand too?

Owen said...

This is a lovely example of virtue-signaling. There is the extra frisson of "sleeping rough" while knowing that a hot shower and clean sheets are just a mental step away. Pure Triumph of the Will, to be so down with the struggle purely from the heart.

I hope the activists running this Spirit Cruise are charging a fat premium for the larger staterooms. And at noon on the after-deck there will a deeply meaningful lecture by an emeritus professor of urban poverty studies, "Folkways of the Destitute in the Modern City: Tradition and Technology." Reserve your place today.

Mary Beth said...

Is the non-showering in order to better experience it or to blend in better? Do they tell the homeless around them that they're there because they want to be, not because they have to? If they go in lying to the people they claim to be helping, are they doing it for the homeless or for themselves?

Owen said...

It may also be useful to note the distinguished literary tradition behind this voluntary self-abasement. George Orwell's "The Road To Wigan Pier" and, especially, "Down and Out in Paris and London" are required reading.

Ann Althouse said...

"It may also be useful to note the distinguished literary tradition behind this voluntary self-abasement. George Orwell's "The Road To Wigan Pier" and, especially, "Down and Out in Paris and London" are required reading."

Yes, I was going to include a quote from "Down and Out" that I've blogged before (
here).

rhhardin said...

There's also rich people who live like middle class people, which is common.

That's how they got rich.

Tommy Duncan said...

These experiences are available in other ways. But you don't get to feel virtuous.

My oldest son used to lead extended canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe area. He said that after about 5 days you smelled so bad the insects left you alone.

My middle son is in the military. He spends 5 to 6 months deployed each year and can vouch for the value of a hot shower, a cooked meal and a cot.

When I was a child we slept in the backyard in a refrigerator box for a few nights. It was great except for the mosquitoes. But I didn't feel virtuous...

robother said...

Unauthorized camping prohibition?

Last fall, an entire subdivision outside Nederland was evacuated for 2 weeks due to a forest fire started by homeless campers: a couple people lost their homes and millions were expended to control the fire. Last month, another subdivision just west of Boulder was evacuated due to a forest fire, fortunately no homes lost but again millions spent controlling the fire in high winds. The City of Boulder green space along Boulder Creek is becoming a hazard for young kids to run freely due to human waste from the homeless population.

The more Boulder and the downtown churches do to feed the homeless, the more homeless we get, especially now with legal marijuana. Oh, and that freeway fire causing massive disruption in Atlanta? Homeless crackhead started it.

Balfegor said...

Participants in his programs, the shortest of which last four days, are asked not to shower for a week beforehand

Yes, to maximise the offense you give middle class passers by. Epater your fellow bourgeoisie. I sometimes wonder -- well, I don't actually, because I have a pretty good idea why -- but I rhetorically sometimes wonder why we don't have public baths that homeless people could use to wash up every other day or so. Obviously what with the drug trade (same reason we don't have public lockers in train stations), anxiety about gay sex, and the fact that an awful lot of our homeless are mentally ill and in no condition to wash themselves, I don't really think bathhouses would solve anything, but I work in DC and walk by little shantytowns and homeless people sleeping on the streets every day, and the smell is really quite offensive.

BillyTalley said...

This is what happens when identity is merely a construct. What if it isn't?

John said...

Orwell, in Wigan Pier, at least had the excuse of journalistic research.

He was doing it to find out how these folks lived so he could report on it. Hopefully so people in authority would do something about it.

Seems very different to me than just "slumming", as someone called it.

John Henry

mockturtle said...

"Isn't it like Rachel Dolezal taking on the appearance of a black person — not for mockery but out of empathy and concern for people who didn't choose this status?"

I'll take this kind of crap seriously when she has both legs amputated to emulate the disabled.

mockturtle said...

The whole concept is very 'white privilege' condescending.

Tinderbox said...

Class appropriation.

Balfegor said...

Isn't it like Rachel Dolezal taking on the appearance of a black person — not for mockery but out of empathy and concern for people who didn't choose this status?

I thought the stuff that came out about Dolezal's childhood fantasies of being an African princess like in National Geographic made pretty clear that she making herself up to look Black not out of mockery or empathy but to act out her longstanding fantasy of transforming herself into an imaginatively constructed "Other," sort of like when Goth kids make believe they're vampires.

Except, you know, Black people actually exist.

Michael K said...

I have seen a number of mentally ill people who owned their own home but slept in an alley. One such was found and taken home by the police a few times but she always went back to the same spot to sleep and they eventually left her alone although they would check on her welfare most nights.

Robert Evans said...

I'm an ordained Zen priest and have some experience with the Zen Peacemaker Order that organizes "street retreats." I won't go into all my zen bona fides but I functioned as the personal attendant to a high ranking zen teacher here in the US. Unlike nearly all my peers that participated in those street retreats, I actually had first hand experience with homelessness, teenage pregnancy, mental illness and drug addiction.

It was a strange experience watching "normal people" expose themselves needlessly to the conditions I had struggled to escape from. What's more, they never seemed to learn the fundamental lesson of working with human suffering, a lesson my foster parents taught me through their example: If you want to help a broken person, you take them into your home. That's skin in the game.

BTW, what's the opposite of slumming? Cuz that's the sort of retreat I want to attend. I'd love to bare witness at Davos. I think I could do some good. Deepak, are you listening? ;-)

Sofa King said...

Like a dog lying in a corner
They will bite you and never warn you "look out".
They'll tear your insides out because
Everybody hates a tourist.
Especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh.
Yeah, and the chip stain's grease will come out in the bath.

Lost My Cookies said...

Don't worry, Godfrey will buy Daddy's company and save the day.

JAORE said...

"Thinking well of your own good intentions and religionish loftiness can make you even less sensitive than most people are to the impression they make on others. "

Should be woven into the next Democrat Party platform.