I suspect that most of us, the vast majority of us, have a deep need to at least feel as though we have some level of control over our destinies. This need for self-determination and independence seems hard-wired into the human DNA. I don’t know anyone who consciously likes having things “done to them.” We like to pick, choose, mold, and shape our own lives. I’ve read studies that suggest that the less control a person feels they have over their life, over their destiny, the more prone they are to serious illness.
But, what if you lacked the capacity, the basic resources required to maintain this level of independence? Perhaps you become seriously ill and require the resources of others to stay alive; maybe you suffer from mental health issues. Research indicates that 18.2% of the population has mental health issues. Or, perhaps, you have cognitive impairment even lacking the ability to make simple, basic decisions.
The fact is, in any society, in any local community, a certain percentage of people, through no fault of their own, lack the capacity to take basic care of themselves. I think about a retired dentist who worked as a school custodian for many years into his advanced age, until he simply couldn’t do the work any more. Why? He was doing all he could to try to save up the resources his quadriplegic son would need for his care when his aging father and mother died.
As a retired school principal, working closely with different communities throughout my career, I was privileged to learn so much about the substantive needs of people and the strength of the human spirit as people privately shared with me their astonishing challenges. Yes, the strength and power of the human soul! But it’s not always sufficient.
A homeless camp in a small plot of woods was displaced when a developer came in, plowed down every single tree, and began building exactly what our community needs: yet another monthly self-storage facility. We have so much shit, we have no place to put it all, and since we don’t really use the junk, the self-storage business is now booming business.
So, apparently, the homeless needed to find someplace else to escape the elements at night. God forbid a community take any responsibility for providing adequate shelters for the homeless population. Somehow Atlanta justifies this by choosing to believe these people somehow deserve their lot in life.
When the fire under the I-85 bridge caused the collapse of one of the nation’s most heavily used transportation corridors, I knew immediately what would happen. Regrettably, I called it right.
One homeless man (so we are being told), who has the mental ability of a young child, who is apparently addicted to crack (so we are being told), somehow (probably lighting up his dope: so we are being told) set fire to the PVC (so we are being told) the city stored under a bridge (which we know for a fact). The resulting inferno caused the bridge collapse. Miraculously, no one was injured!
Some characterize the man’s actions as malevolent. Others, who actually know him and let him use their business bathrooms to clean himself, describe him as very childlike, saying he loved cartoons and was not mean spirited at all.
But the bottom line is this: our community failed, yet once again, to take care of its vulnerable and weak, failed to take care of those who can not take care of themselves, failed to provide the most basic shelter and care for a man who can not do so for himself. Our community failed to properly store and protect highly flammable materials.
And when a preventable accident occurred, rather than accept any responsibility for these failures, our community, the city of Atlanta, has chosen to blame one of our most defenseless and vulnerable men. This accident was predictable, almost inevitable. And unlike the man being blamed for this, the intelligent (have employable cognitive skills), well-paid (can afford a home for themselves and their family) who bear the responsibility for the decisions they make not to fund homeless shelters, drug rehab centers, mental institutions, and properly secure highly flammable materials have chosen to scapegoat their own failures onto a man who is in no position to provide for himself, let alone defend himself from this onslaught.
But it gets even worse!
The city is marketing itself as a doer of good, as a kind, generous, benevolent place actively positioning itself to share what it has learned in this terrible debacle with other municipalities around the nation who also engage in this “standard storage practice.” They are reaching out to share so others can more accurately assess their storage practices. Oh for god’s sake!
Aren’t the smart, well-heeled city leaders clever: get the idea in the public’s subconscious that their irresponsible conduct (unsafely storing highly flammable materials under a bridge and not protecting the homeless) is a standard of practice widely used without issue. They are, after all, reaching out to help—help people use common sense instead of helping those who actually need help!
Shame on you Atlanta! Shame! Take care of our homeless. Take far better care of those who can not take care of themselves. Provide outreach to those who suffer from addiction. Reach out to our own. Properly secure highly flammable materials. Stop blaming the most vulnerable for the fact that you are not doing your damned jobs! My patience with greed, unkindness, and graft is over!