Is the capacity to offer people housing (for people who “can”) a civic duty?

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I did land from my eldercare challenge in 2010 with the “use” of a house in retirement, and at times I think there is a moral question on whether or when I should be prepared to house others.  Yes, I could want to in some circumstances, but those opportunities would come about through readiness.

I’ve only sheltered someone once.  That was back in 1980, for about three months, when I was 37, at about the same age that my own father had gotten married (in 1940), so there’s a curious parallel. At the time, I was living in the first home that I had “owned”, a townhome (but really a quarter section of a garden style building, two levels, in north Dallas, between Northwest Highway and Royal Lane.

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In 1980 (about two years before we would start hearing big-time reports on AIDS in the gay community) there was a sense of “challenge” presented by the Cuban refugees.  The topic had often been discussed at the old Metropolitan Community Church on Reagan St (south of Cedar Springs) when Don Eastman was pastor.  Actually, an independent gay church in Oak Cliff, called UCC, was taking the lead on it.  It was presumed that many of the refugees would be gays escaping Fidel Castro’s regime.  Newspaper articles took the challenge of housing people lightly, asking who had a “spare bedroom”, with little thought to issues like security and effort.

I actually enrolled in a Spanish class at El Centro College, to be held in downtown Dallas on Saturday mornings.  I met with the pastor over at UCC, and it seemed that a sponsor would have to spend full time with his protégé, not feasible for a single person who worked professionally full time for a normal level of income.  So sponsorship did not sound feasible.  In early September, I went over to see a Mr. Perez at Catholic Charities on Lemmon Ave.  I told him that I was gay as the meeting started, and he said that the fact that I had stated that I was gay “ended the discussion.”

Nevertheless, the issue smoldered.  On October 1, 1980, on a Wednesday night, I happened to be at MCC, still in my business suit (at the time I was still working for CABCO – the job change to Chilton, which was much more informal, would not happen until late 1981). I saw a handwritten note on a bulletin board (remember, such a thing had happened in the dorm at William and Mary twenty years before) that caught my eye.  It started with “lost everything.”

This was a young gay homeless man, 24, white, from Arkansas.  He did have a job as a waiter at the IHOP on Lemmon.  Quickly I found him at the Wednesday night service.  He would up coming home to live in my condo for three months, as it turned out.  He slept on the rollout sofa in the living room.  My room was upstairs.  I usually gave him a ride to the iHop, which was not far from where I worked near the Zale Building (from “Logan’s Run”) on Stemmons.

It would turn out that he even had a relationship of sorts, which would come to a head one evening with a soap opera like scene with the other person in my living room.  There was a time he was sick, after a spyphillis shot, when his being home during the day may have prevented a burglary, which happened next door in early December.

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In early January, I would find he had left, for good.  In fact, he had gone back to Arkansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  One time, out of curiosity, I drove to El Dorado to get an idea where he had come from, and the address seemed to be some kind of community center, not a home or apartment.  He had paid some rent, but left some unpaid long distance phone bills.

It was good to be alone again.

Later, I would hear about a charity called “Safe Place” in Dallas, which was supposed to rent a few apartments to house homeless gay adults.

The question comes up again in 2014, as a divide on social attitudes toward homosexuality deepens between the west and much of the undeveloped or less democratic world.  The Pew Research Center published a study on the subject in June 2013, here.    Homosexuality tends to be accepted in countries that are more secular, embrace individualism, have a high standard of living, and democratic governments.  It tends to be unacceptable in poorer countries, or those with authoritarian systems or (particularly in Muslim countries) religiosity.   As we know, recently Uganda, Nigeria and Russia are getting a lot of attention in the media.  In Nigeria and Russia especially, rapid western progress in gay marriage (and its media attention on the Internet) has been viewed by leaders as a threat to social stability in these countries, and particularly in Russia as a threat to the birth rate, which many countries need to raise in the face of aging populations.  Laws either have a direct effect on gays (as in Nigeria) or seem to encourage vigilante attacks on gays (as in much of Russia).

The end result of this could be a marked increase in gays expecting political asylum in western countries, including the United States.  That is a bit different in one sense from the Cuban situation, because, unlike that situation, the “refugiados” are not here yet and will not be until they are processed or possibly have sponsors.  There could be pressure in the community to offer personal sponsorship and guarantee housing.  I wonder that is in the cards.

The ability to provide housing could become critical as part of readiness for large scale national catastrophe.  We saw some of this after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It’s easy to contemplate this need arising after bigger imaginable disasters, such as a tsunami (which could happen on the East Coast if the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canaries), a huge solar storm or EMP attack.  Citizen readiness for this might be viewed as a national security issue.

Posted Sunday, February 23, 2014, at 11:15 PM.

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