DREAMing of a HOME by Marguerite Jill Dye
Living half the year in the Green Mountains of Vermont in the ski lodge my Dad dreamed of building (and built!) gives me a special perspective on dream homes. I understand the magic and healing that living in one’s dream home provides, the dedication and hard work required in building one, and have sensed the magnetic pull in searching for one. I know the importance of living in a place where one feels at home, safe from the outside world, able to rest and recuperate from the challenges that life brings.
When we aren’t living in my Dad’s dream home in Vermont, we live in Sarasota, Florida, where we used to own an island dream home of our own in an idyllic beach enclave but escaped from an escalating mortgage we couldn’t afford. We were very fortunate. Some of our neighbors lost their homes to foreclosure after the market crashed, dropping values in half. Now, instead of owning (like many other Floridians who lost or sold their houses over the past few years), we rent a condo downtown.
Living downtown has provided us with an urban setting, great convenience and an opportunity to learn about our own underworld, our community of refugees, our homeless. In “Musings on a Park Bench”, I described meeting a middle-aged, homeless, female veteran on a park bench and how we spent several months working together to permanently solve her housing problem.
While some of us are living in our dream homes, others are dreaming of living in a home, any home. Dream homes are relative – a castle or mansion can be less loved and appreciated than a shack or a shanty as I witnessed in the slums (“villa miseria” or “misery village”) of Buenos Aires where poor migrants from the countryside build simple structures on vacant land to serve as protection for their families while they seek to create a better life in the city. The only difference between the poorest of the poor in Sarasota and Buenos Aires is that in Argentina they have a roof over their heads and a place to call “home”, whereas in Sarasota, our homeless have nowhere to go to sleep safely and under cover, and if discovered by the police – huddled under bushes or trees – they are arrested and fined for sleeping outside. The Salvation Army has a limited number of beds available for $10 per night, but many of our homeless have no income and are existing on Food Stamps, so can’t afford to pay for a place to sleep.
In our society, a perfect storm of economic, structural, governmental and social conditions have left many citizens without jobs, housing, sufficient food, a feeling of safety/security, physical or mental health care — the most basic human rights. Our economic crisis has created a floating population of homeless, American citizens living in exile in their own country, outcasts of our society. Our heads are in the sand as we drive or walk by these invisible citizens, removing park benches as a way to “deal” with the homeless so we needn’t get too close or even begin a conversation.
All over the world, when societies break down to such an extent that some of their citizens lack basic human needs, governments unite to respond to the human suffering for the poorest of the poor, be they refugees or victims of war, violence, natural or manmade disasters. In recent years the “Sun Belt” along the Gulf Coast has seen the sharpest increase in poverty in the U.S. Along with our housing crash, unemployment rates in our poorest neighborhoods have soared to as high as 30%. Florida’s funding for the homeless (one of the highest homeless populations in the US and growing) has dropped to the second lowest in the country only next to Wyoming which has no programs for the homeless.
Surely in a community of residents as talented, experienced and successful as Sarasota’s, we have an opportunity and a duty to work together in creative problem solving and meaningful management of skills and resources. We have completed our community’s ten year plan, “Step Up: End Homelessness in Sarasota County Now!” Let’s replace Sarasota’s uncaring image with one of compassion. Let’s rally our resources and Step Up Sarasota so those who’ve lost hope can begin DREAMing of their HOME!
Marguerite Jill Dye