Addiction and homelessness: caught between mad and sad and the dissonance in between

Our contradictory attitudes are often hard to articulate and don’t fit into easy narratives

“Get lost you guys!”

I was calling out to four people underneath an overhang at the back of our office recently.

I was met with two deep stares of indignity. Two others ignored me.

“Scram,” I repeated. “This is private property. We are trying to run a business.”

As two on BMX bike reluctantly start to roll away, a comment.

“I was just stopping to see a guy I know who’s down on his luck,” he said.

I commented further about people doing drugs by our back door, obvious stolen property, and the constant mess left behind.

“Don’t group us altogether,” BMX guy said.

And then I immediately felt bad. I was grossly generalizing.

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from the cognitive dissonance regarding “these people,” the shrapnel on the streets left after the grenade of addiction explodes up against mental health struggles and a lack of affordable housing.

We hear a lot of outrage spewed on social media about property crime, violence, garbage, homeless individuals doing drugs in plain view of children from the give-‘em-all-fentanyl crowd.

We hear, too, the unwavering empathy of those community support organizations and informal groups on Facebook who get together to feed meals to the less fortunate.

But I suspect I’m far from alone in the mushy middle between those positions.

How can we at once sympathize with those hooked on opioids likely caused by personal trauma while rolling our eyes at yet another syringe left in the alley?

How can we be outraged at yet another car window smashed while understanding the big picture of desperation from addiction and abject poverty?

How can we grumble as we drive past the Portal on Yale Road seeing homeless people at the 7/11 as 12-year-olds with backpacks walk by, all while knowing such a place is needed, hopeful and is actually helping the situation?

Again, cognitive dissonance, that state of mind whereby a person is wracked with discomfort dealing with inconsistent beliefs and values.

I know I’m not alone with this, particularly when I see some of the names on a petition to shut The Portal down while it is planning to do even more with expanded services.

I want to help the homeless, but I want someone else to do it. Somewhere else.

I don’t want anyone to die of a fentanyl overdose, but I don’t particularly want to inject the Narcan.

And I’m sick and tired of the stolen bikes, the broken windows, and the crap left behind after a night of whatever they are doing outside local businesses.

Yet, well, I guess I can empathize with a feeling of abject desperation that leads to acts of desperation to fill a void.

There is a middle ground between the ubiquitous kill ‘em all and save ‘em all philosophies, but cognitive dissonance is hard to articulate and doesn’t easily fit into solution narratives we mostly see reported in the media.

After the two BMXers rode off from our property, the couple was left behind on the ground, shopping cart beside them, belongings on the ground. A young woman with dishevelled hair offered up a blank stare, eyes seemingly empty of emotion. The vocal young man talked back to me angrily, mostly mumbling, but one thing I heard him say: “I’m just trying to fold my clothes.”

Maybe he was. Or maybe he was preparing to shoot up or smoke something. Or maybe he was sorting through stolen property.

I don’t know.

I told them to get lost because I thought I should. Then I felt bad about it.

And at times like that, I’m not sure if I should be mad or sad or if it’s OK to be somewhere in between.

Paul Henderson writes for the Chilliwack Progress


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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