A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
Santa Barbara’s trees, like its oceans and mountains, are one thing she says she never tires of here.”I feel very fortunate to have my car,†she says. “It’s a little cramped, but it’s softer than cement.” For Some Seniors Without Housing: A Parking Lot Is Home; NPR, Sept 18, 2016

My stomach lurches every time I look at this photo.    How can this be happening in upscale Santa Barbara?  This woman  could be my neighbor, the grandmother in the  pew next to mine at church, she  could be that woman struggling along with me at  Pilates class.   She probably  went to college, paid her bills on time, baked cookies for the PTO, raised a family.  Or so it would seem.

Maybe not.  Maybe she lived wildly beyond her means, enrolling her kids in expensive private schools, indulging in spas and Mediterranean cruises, driving a Lexus. Rotating credit cards for payment, betting on the return of the pre-recession economy.  Or maybe  she was forced out of a longterm marriage by a deluded husband frantically trying to recapture his youth.  Or maybe she’s a widow  bankrupted by overwhelming medical bills.

Maybe.  But is  something more fundamental in play?   In our frenzied rush to achieve “success,†have  we have forgotten our need for each other?  Have we  lost our communities?

I grew up in a tight community.  And I hated it.  Everyone knew everything you did, and worse, attributed it to your genetics.  If your family was properous, that predestined your success, despite all distressing evidence to the contrary.  If as in my case, your familyA person sitting on the ground in front of water.
were not  wealthy landowners, city fathers or otherwise distinguished, you were not expected to rise above your family’s  social standing.  No credential, diploma or bank statement could refute  this.    That was the down side, the only side, I saw growing up.

But no one, no matter what color or family circumstances.  NO ONE lived in a car or wanted for food or clean clothes.   This was not because were endowed with unnatural virtue or were a microcosm of  Christian charity.  Far from it.  We were mean-spirited, kind, A person sitting on the ground in front of water.generous, greedy,  intellectually gifted and psychotic, industrious, and lazy; like people everywhere.  With one major exception: We needed each other.  No one had to tell us that.   We knew it by birth;  we were a poor farming community; if we were to survive, it meant cooperation.  It meant community.  In our case, a community formed around a church.

The little community still exists; thrives, in fact,  and its people are still just as flawed and nosy.  Inevitably, though, time has brought  change. Its members are more diverse, better educated, more tolerant now.  But  community foundation  never changed.  If a neighbor’s house is damaged by flood or fire, the community rebuilds the house and supplies food and clothes.  A  member’s bad medical diagnosis A person sitting on the ground in front of water.triggers a  rotation of members to supply food and housekeeping.   Extra rows are planted in  gardens for needy members.  The list goes on.   And this is why such a photo could never have been, never will be,  taken in that community.

So I wonder.  Why have our larger urban communities failed this woman?  Does she not meet some tedious beaurocratic requirement?  Is she in need of psychiatric help?  Are there so many like her that community organizations are overwhelmed?  Is it even possible for government to organize community?   Or can lasting  community be forged only on the anvil of  fundamental interdependence?    Is her plight, then, simply the logical outcome of a society who has forgotten this  fundamental truth?






9 thoughts on “DO YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN?

  1. Yes. I talk about this often, too, as I shared a similar experience. We have never had homeless people in my agrarian small town. Was it perfect? No place is a utopia. But there was beauty and heart and grace and so many times people from various sub-facets of the community would converge to build the barn back after it got blown over by a tornado, etc.

  2. I feel like I know this woman far too well! I volunteered for years in NYC in a van delivering food to homeless men living on the street. Any city welfare housing went first to women with children. All the people on the street were older single adults, many with mental and physical impairments, many held jobs.

    My guess would be that this woman is suffering from a chronic illness (mental and/or physical) which impairs her ability to work, and to find affordable medical care. I once lobbied in Washington with a woman who had an MBA from the University of Chicago, had once held a high federal government post, had an adult daughter with whom she was on good terms, but who was also reduced to living in her car for a time.

    In the past extended families lived nearby, and when times were tough all piled into one house or apartment. Now young people often have to move across country to make a living.

    It’s a sad fact of modern life.

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