When it became time to take the words that stemmed from my pen and turn them into a coherent and concise speech in front of a packed courthouse, I took some deep breathes and spoke about what it means to be a part of a community.
For context, there was a stabbing just over two weeks ago in Ventura.
A homeless and mentally ill man knifed a man while he was at dinner with his wife and daughter. It’s heartbreaking. It’s truly hard to describe. Sad is all I have. Left for dead, our Ventura community was in disarray. At the moment the community is still reeling, and anger and shock have swept over many residents.
We’ve reached our boiling point regarding poverty. It’s been ugly.
The courthouse reminded me of the poem I wrote towards the very end of Not So Simple titled “Calling on the Community.” The premise was to get people together to and try to solve whatever problem plagued the community. Everyone gets a chance of talking, in hopes of hearing different viewpoints with a goal of getting closer to a solution.
I don’t think we made it there.
People with all viewpoints took their two minutes in front of city council. It was a mixed bag in terms of delivery. Some were angry and incoherent. Others were calculated and calm while speaking their mind. Yet, what was unmistakable was the mob mentality.
All of this made me think about how we speak up about regarding issues that are important to us. We all have our biases. When it comes to homelessness, I’m under the mindset that we need compassion for everyone in our community- no matter where they live or their mental condition. I was in the minority. I knew that.
But even with my bias, I focused on listening to the themes I heard from those I disagreed with. I hope they did the same. I learned that a common theme was safety. I’m not a parent, so I don’t always account for that when I think of our homeless population. I now had a better understanding and agreed that our public areas must be safer for our children. Now the question is: how do we achieve that while keeping all of our citizens in mind?
I listened to the families who’ve raised generations in Ventura- even if most of their rhetoric revolved around Not In My Backyard. (Currently, this is happening to a larger extent in Orange County.) But I understand what they are saying. Their town is changing. California is changing. The middle class is shrinking. Homelessness has continuously increased the past six years. We are in an affordable housing crisis. This change is making them uncomfortable and upset. Change is never easy.
I began with “We are here because we all care about our community…”
And I truly meant that. Whether East Coast, West Coast, or Middle America, I believe that people genuinely care about the place they call home. But how do we show this care? Do we complain without proposing possible solutions for change? Do we keep in mind everyone who calls the community home? Most issues we are presented with are human-centered.
In Ventura, we all deserve blame for this tragedy- that goes for city council, the police force, and the constituents they serve. No ‘one’ party is directly responsible. We can’t use a blanket to direct blame. Just like not every homeless person is a drug addict or mentally ill. Generalizing and stereotyping is a dangerous game that will further divide and dumb down any complex issue- especially homelessness.
Overall we need more structure if we hope to properly address this humanitarian crisis. We need to address mental healthcare. We need to provide more housing. We need to come together to speak for action. Through all the anger the other night at City Hall, there were threads of hope, threads of sensibility that both sides presented.
As our community splits apart, I still have hope we can mend this fence in hopes of a better future for us all.
[I spoke about all of this the other night in front of a packed house at the EP Foster Public Library. Jump around if you like, it’s worth it.]