Over the weekend we non-resident members of Blair House (i.e., the volunteers) had a spirited conversation about which of the resident BOMF member should be our first "Member of the Month." There were a lot of opinions, and each one was backed up with a convincing reason: who has made every run (even the ones in the rain), who cheers for his teammates loudest, who complains the least, who has improved the most, who do others seem to look up to, who is in danger of getting lost in the crowd? Now, I suppose the good news is that with 12 members and 12 months each and every one of these nominations can get the award sooner or later. But the exercise itself was an excellent reminder that there is no one "homeless person."
Everybody stereotypes--c'mon, don't deny it, when's the last time you just knew that slow driver in front of you was an old man...in a hat--and it isn't always for ignoble reasons. To fight for people it can be expedient to lump them together as The People. Homelessness is a crisis and sometimes just trotting out the horrifying total numbers is the most effective way to get people to snap to attention. (Best estimates put the number at 3.5 million Americans over the course of a year, and between 660,000 and 800,000 on any given night, numbers that as you might imagine are on the rise in this economy.)
But as I spend more and more time with the guys at Blair House it becomes impossible to lump them together like that; everyone's story is just too different. Not only did they each take a different path, they've each ended up in a very different place, even if all those places share the same physical address. Angry, frustrated, determined, philosophical, cavalier, stoic, brave, rueful, grateful: all of these, and none of these, are the right response to finding oneself living in a shelter.
So who's the Member of the Month? Some one person will be named (yeah, I know who but we won't announce it 'til the end of the week), and he'll get tickets to take a pal to see a movie one night. But really, they all are.