What Community Means When You Live in a Tent

What Community Means When You Live in a Tent

CM shares these thoughts about his recent experience with encamped homelessness, in response to our question – “What does community mean to you?”

A Communal Embrace

Feeling embraced and supported within a community holds profound significance in my life at this moment. At its core, this sense of belonging provides a vital emotional anchor, fostering a deep connection with others who share similar values, goals, or experiences. This communal embrace serves as a source of comfort and reassurance, a reminder that one is not navigating the complexities of life alone. The shared understanding within a community creates a supportive environment where individuals can express themselves authentically without fear of judgment, cultivating a sense of acceptance that nurtures personal growth and well-being.

Elaboration: The stigma around homelessness is in some ways “community” – the prejudice and ignorance of the people foster and perpetuate the misconception of what it’s like to be homeless – and as result the community that is built around the misconception. The compassion towards the homeless is also “community” in some ways – the acknowledgement of challenges/barriers and desire to help the vulnerable navigate the situation – and the community that is built around this desire to help. These are both examples of community. Both are a choice but only one of these two communities improves things for both the public and “undesirables”.

A Shared Purpose and a Shared Journey

Being embraced within a community imparts a sense of purpose and identity. The collective strength of shared beliefs or objectives can amplify individual efforts, fostering a collaborative spirit that propels everyone towards common goals. This shared purpose not only enhances personal motivation but also generates a collective momentum capable of overcoming challenges that might seem insurmountable when faced alone. This mutual reinforcement within a community establishes a framework for individuals to contribute meaningfully and find fulfillment in the shared journey toward common aspirations.

Elaboration: Many individuals were aware of my presence but only a few sought to change the situation. Those who sought either had authority within themselves via position as a professional or volunteer, or as individuals who sought to ease the problems by way of offering what they could: coffee, sandwiches or conversation; essentially telling us that there are people who care, even if they don’t know our name. The community that supported me was a community of compassion.

A Buffer Against Isolation

In the current context, feeling embraced within a community also provides a crucial buffer against the isolating effects of modern life. The rapid pace of technological advancement and the prevalence of virtual interactions can sometimes lead to a sense of disconnection. A supportive community, whether physical or virtual, acts as a counterbalance, offering genuine human connections that transcend digital interfaces. This tangible connection becomes especially vital during challenging times, serving as a safety net that reminds individuals that they are part of something larger than themselves.

Elaboration: Society has largely moved from interaction to virtual. Even this writing is done virtually instead of in-person. Electrical power is a heavy premium when unhoused; how does one charge a phone when there’s no source? How are calls made or emails checked? I had an advantage of solar charging which was still mostly ineffective due to the fall season of being overcast and summer rains. I was fortunate to have people charge my devices but often had problems maintaining power due to the fact that I was unable to leave camp to pick up my devices so I had to wait until they were available to drop off. It is almost impossible to maintain a community connection for the average camper leaving contacts feeling like we “dropped off the face of the earth”. Improvements are definitely required to connect virtually. 

A Platform for Diverse Perspectives

Furthermore, within a supportive community, there is often a wealth of diverse perspectives and experiences. This diversity enriches personal understanding, fostering a culture of continuous learning and broadening one’s worldview. Exposure to varied backgrounds and viewpoints encourages empathy and open-mindedness, contributing to personal development and the development of a more inclusive and compassionate society. This dynamic interchange of ideas and experiences within a community becomes a catalyst for positive change, both on an individual and collective level.

Elaboration: Every urban camper had their own story; unfortunately, many of the stories are suspicious. It’s understandable that there’s a lot of half-truths, omissions and embellishments but under all the deception is a grain of truth. It is just a matter of one’s perspective and angle towards the situation. People trying to help will be motivated with compassion and sympathy will find that although most urban campers are responsible for their situation, they’ll also be aware that the lack of motivation is largely bureaucratic and systemic barriers. The public will join in at this point and blame the campers for being lazy and choosing this life or “It’s their own fault! There’s lots of programs and support”.

Although this is partially true, it’s not truth. Many programs are monthly access and limited help; the Venture Center for example is monthly and provides food and clothing but how long will a pair of pants and shirt last on the street? Much of the food requires cooking material like heat, water, pots, can openers and refrigeration. Test it yourself, a single outfit and near-expired food. This is not viable, practical or sustainable. Again, I had a serious advantage over my camp peers with pots, propane stove and cooler and much of what I had was still gone to waste. Campers and the public live in two different worlds so there is a bridge of understanding that needs to be built. 

An Intricate Tapestry of Life

In conclusion, the concept of feeling embraced and supported within a community is multifaceted and deeply impactful. It encompasses emotional support, shared purpose, a buffer against isolation, and a platform for diverse perspectives. In the intricate tapestry of life, a strong, supportive, compassionate community provides the threads that weave together individual journeys into a collective narrative of shared growth, understanding, and resilience. At this moment, the value of such community bonds is particularly pronounced, offering a sense of stability and interconnectedness in the midst of life’s complexities.

Elaboration: Campers are largely misunderstood. No one is out here by choice. Those who claim to be out by choice have just given up on trying to get out. Homelessness is a trap. There’s little chance of housing simply because finances meet the cost of living. People can blame drugs as the underlying cause which is mostly true but drugs are also more affordable than a cellphone bill, let alone rent. OW pays $300 monthly to exist; it’d take over a full calendar year, without spending to save up for just a small space for the first month. Do you realistically expect a homeless person to do this? Even housed, $700 is what OW pays which again is unrealistic.

The encampment situation is a designed trap as there’s no feasible way of housing anyone, which is why folks will band together in their own unhoused community. They shun outsiders and distrust any help, which is equivalent to the treatment they get. Would you let a camper help you with anything? The misinformation and division of “class”, the deception of truth surrounding the actual issues and barriers of housing, the deceit between the homeless and the public – the situation is going to get worse. I was fortunate to have a community unite and get me off the street but why me? Oh, I still have employment and not drug dependent and willing to do my part – maybe that’s the difference? I’m more desirable to help? 

What are some takeaways from the things CM has shared here with us?

  1. Inclusive, compassionate community welcomes all.
  2. Stigma and misconception create broken and polarized communities.
  3. A healthy compassionate community lifts us all up.
  4. Human connection is vital in a society fragmented by technological advances that leave people behind and isolated.
  5. Exposure to each others’ stories creates space where healthy diversity can flourish. We need to listen to each other in order to build bridges.
  6. Each person is valuable and is in need of community.

Let’s take CM’s words to heart. We all need each other. CM is thankful that they received support, but concerned that if we don’t take community seriously there will continue to be many others who slip through the cracks. “In the intricate tapestry of life, a strong, supportive, compassionate community provides the threads that weave together individual journeys into a collective narrative of shared growth, understanding, and resilience” – let’s not pick and choose who gets to be part of community, but welcome every single person into the positive impact and flourishing of a supportive, compassionate community.

This post is a part of our Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week campaign! We have a goal to raise $5,000 by Giving Tuesday on November 28th. Be sure to make a donation with the form below to help us continue serving our friends that are facing hunger and homelessness in Hamilton. The first $2,500 donated will be matched! Double your impact today by donating.

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