How to traumatize an already traumatized people.

How do you traumatize an already traumatized people? 

It's simple really, just post a sign telling folks you'll be sweeping the street 2 days before Christmas, make them move all their belongings and tents from the damp concrete to the snowy hillside, and then send an army of workers to execute the plan. Keep them on their toes with how these sweeps will go, making them fear being arrested and their stuff being tossed. Not only that, use your power and privilege by trying to convince everyone you're doing it all for their own good and well being.

It's a known fact that most people experiencing homelessness have been through various forms of trauma throughout their lives and the act of becoming homeless is traumatic! War, rape, prison, and domestic violence are just some of the traumatic events people have been through and then add to that the trauma of becoming and being homeless. Homelessness itself deprives people of their basic needs and puts them in constant unpredictable and risky situations; homelessness dehumanizes people and makes their lives stressful and uncertain. Living on the streets, sleeping rough or in homeless shelters is undoubtedly stress-filled and traumatic!

I, along with many others, have been at quite a few of these cleanings and sweeps. I know they cause unbelievable stress and trauma. I have spoken to a large number of Tent City residents and they believe sanitation and cleanliness aren't the primary motives, but rather, they believe it's intimidation tactics by the "powers-that-be" to get them to move. They know only these Uptown viaducts are being cleaned, they know it's politically motivated by leaders who pretend they're doing it for them while lining their pockets with money from gentrifying developers. They know they are being bullied by the very people who are supposed to be protecting and lifting them up. 

While the leaders play their games, homeless people are being used as collateral damage. I have watched people miss work or appointments because they had to ensure their belongings wouldn't get tossed. I have helped people move their tents and seen them rip in the process, making what little protection they have even more unsafe. I have seen an elderly man shiver and shake uncontrollably in frigid weather because he couldn't crawl into his tent and find a little warmth. I have seen the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite escalate during these sweeps!

2 days before Christmas, it hit me (again) how traumatic these sweeps truly are! The Christmas season is already stress-filled and traumatic for those remembering "what once was" or dreaming of "what could be". No one wants to live in a cold tent under a Highway on a day dedicated to family, togetherness and good food, so a sweep at this time feels like the dagger is getting dug deeper into their backs. On that day, 2 days before Christmas, I saw tempers flare on and off all day, because these sweeps are torturous, painful, stressful and cause immense trauma for an already traumatized people! 

Anyone who works or lives with those experiencing homelessness, knows we need to be incredibly sensitive to what they may have gone through and are going through. Trauma affects someone's whole being, and we need to do our best not to escalate the tension and stress; these sweeps do just that! Traumatized people need others who'll be patient, persevering and forgiving; traumatized people need others who'll love them, be compassionate with them and show mercy; traumatized people need others who'll go the extra mile for them. Every day, I have the privilege of witnessing many kind-hearted folk doing just this in Uptown; not forgetting to love their neighbors. The homeless themselves, activists, outreach workers, clergy and countless others have united together to reduce the trauma. What I love to see is God's Kingdom and His love flowing freely amongst those who are willing to lift up and fight for those who are bullied and have been stomped on, helping our brothers and sisters feel loved and reducing the extent of these traumatic events! 

As I write this, another sweep is scheduled for tomorrow morning in morbidly cold temperatures, with windchills that could hit -20F. Tomorrow morning, this cruelty will again traumatize an already traumatized people. Lives will be put at risk and tensions will be high. Yet, as those in power execute an unjust war on the poor, ordinary people will continually live out God's Kingdom here on earth, loving the weak, lifting up the poor, setting prisoners free, and being compassionate and merciful to one another and those who don't need any more trauma in their lives.
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