Saturday, March 05, 2005

Defining Street Culture (Loosely)

It occurs to me that there are some general values and beliefs running through the culture of the street. Not that everybody on the street is the same. Homelessness is a situation, not an ethnicity. Nevertheless, if you live there, you will find lots of similar ideas in discussions at the drop in centers, soup kitchens, and shelters:

1) Materialism is bad, people should share what they have.
2) Don't ask too many questions of others
3) Be attached to people-- don't be a detached snob
4) Systems, buracracies, and highly developed social networks damage people
5) Police, politicians, government workers, professionals and business people can't be trusted
6) Don't involve others in your conflicts... resolve them yourself -- don't ever "rat" on people.
7) Help those less fortunate.

There are a host of others. Please feel free to post if you can think of any. Many of these ideas are progressive and, in my opinion, useful to society in general. It makes sense that those who are impacted by greed would oppose it, but anti-materialism is a sentiment that is also found in many major religions. North America is money-sick, and the cure is generosity.

The distaste of detachment is interesting. When I lived on the street, one person would bum a smoke, and they would be obligated to share it. This is generosity, but it is also attachment to community. There is a sense on the street that we are all in this together, and we should not abandon our buds in times of trouble. Emotional rescuing and what some people would call "co-dependence" are the rule on the street. If someone is feeling suicidal, for example, there are many around who will "come and get you."

For some in the homeless culture, systems are equivalent to evil. Again, this makes sense if you consider the systematic oppression of the poor. Even the right to use the washroom involves money and therefore a subscription to our current social system. Think about this: If you did not have a cent, were in the downtown area late at night (say, after 11pm) and needed a drink of water, where would you go? Maybe to a coffee shop where you could ask for one, but if your clothes are dirty you will most like get the "Our policy is not to do that..." You learn to hate "policy" when you run up against it time and time again.

You learn to hate questions on the street too. Something I have noticed: questions about work, income, and lifestyle are often asked by those who are dying to have somebody ask them about THEIR lifestyle, because THEY are doing quite well. Hence, poor people tend to keep their nose out of others' business. Even "How are you doing?" can be problematic when asked to a person who has not slept or eaten properly for 2 days.

Anyway, I am ranting here, I hope somebody finds this useful.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

very useful thankyou!