Recently I was teaching my 3-year old daughter how to connect the dots. She’s learning her letters and knows that B comes after A. Pretty straight-forward, right?
I have been talking to my older two about how the history they are learning in school connects to issues we continue to wrestle with today. How to reconcile the rash of public shootings with the 2nd amendment protection to keep and bear arms. How our country was founded by descendants of immigrants who came to this land seeking economic opportunity, religious freedom, and a chance to build a better life for their families; and yet, those very opportunities are being held ransom in the name of American patriotism. How the earliest displacement of Native Americans from their lands, and a slave trade that dehumanized thousands of people seeded the racism and classism that continues to show up today — at our borders, in our politics, and even in our schools. As you can imagine, these conversations have not been quite so straight-forward.
As I move into the world of adult conversation, I’ve been wrestling with how to reconcile the inequities in my own backyard. Almost 5000 people are experiencing homelessness in Orange County. The political dance been well-documented and the humanitarian response has hit some very high economic and social walls. The “A to B solution” is to build more housing — including transitional shelters, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing — period. Yes, the economics don’t work well. Land is expensive and the cost of living here is one of the highest in the country. But, dozens of cities have addressed similar issues, building housing first, supporting wrap-around services, and working with all members of community in service of our neighbors. Why can’t we?
A few months ago, I witnessed the social wall firsthand. An estimated 2,000 residents protested against building three new homeless shelters in Laguna Niguel, Irvine, and Huntington Beach. They were afraid — for the safety of their children, for the impending influx of “criminal” elements, and even the potential that property values would dip. Fear, I (mostly) understand; Fear-mongering, I don’t. At a city council meeting, a County official actually said,“…you’re inviting the lowest common denominator of the homeless community who don’t want our help…”. Really? Where’s our compassion? Our belief in giving a helping hand? In coming together as a community to help one another? The politics of otherness is classism at its worst. And, it’s likely to continue so long as our Mayors and County Supervisors continue to play “pass the buck” on the backs of those most in need of support.
The “A to B social solution” would be to come together as a community (United to End Homelessness is one example addressing chronic homelessness) — to see our neighbors experiencing homelessness as our brothers and sisters. Can we allow compassion to drive the narrative instead of fear? Can we summon the courage to move outside our individual bubbles into a collective humanity? Can we turn the apathy that allowed homelessness to thrive into an empathy that drives action and inclusiveness? Orange County has the resources and I know we have the heart. What would it take to find the will?
What are your ideas to help us — and our communities — connect the dots?
Ruchi Warrier is a wife, mother, social strategist, and resident of Irvine.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org