Last Known Safe
We live in a country on a continent of prosperity, a land of plenty where there should be no one living on the streets. Okay, some make the choice to be on the street, yes, sure, and I understand how the spectre of mental illness and addiction haunt so many of the homeless and the street people. I have met those who have chosen the street as their home that will talk somewhat uneasily about their choices and their lives on the street offering a bit of an apology punctuated with an inference that they’ll try to do better and get themselves a room somewhere.
One of the saddest songs I know from American musical theatre is in the libretto of “My Fair Lady” when Liza Doolittle, the flower girl sings “All I want is a room somewhere”. She sings about her desires to her peers, the working poor.
All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin’ lots of heat.
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
The working poor, the street people, the homeless, all make my heart ache. I am old enough to realize that happiness is not predicated on possession, on income or on the accumulation of wealth. I know that at times in my life there’s been a fine line that divided me from them, a line that was as much about my attitude and naiveté as it was about how much coin there was in my pockets. And even that observation saddens me; the observation that I can reduce the experience to a me vs. them sort of statement.
Street kids sadden me. They really do. And its because I don’t truly understand how they get there.
I have always questioned how kids barely in their teens end up on the street, huddled together in back alleys, waiting anxiously in parkades for the duty security team to find them and move them on. I have never not felt that it was safe to go home. Their worlds are different, and though I don’t always ‘get it’, I do try to do what I can when I bump into them on the street, when our orbits briefly eclipse each other.
I’ve held their hands, I’ve hugged them when I thought they needed it and were able to accept it for what it was and not as some predatory move. I’ve walked with them through shopping malls and down busy streets clumsily dodging shoppers hoping that my presence, my aura will somehow shield them from abuse and lend them some visibility as people. I’ve bought them coffee and food from vendors and kiosks that won’t even let them in the door, fed their dogs with the leftovers of restaurant meals I couldn’t finish myself, admitted why there was a time that was always a small baggie of kibble and dog biscuits in my backpack, and my shoulder bag. I’ve helped them pack up their gear so they could move on ahead of the police patrols, and then found new places for them to sleep in good weather or directed them to shelters and places of tolerance when nature has another agenda.
It never gets any easier to see them. And it shouldn’t get easier, not ever. We should never become complacent about the scenes I’ve witnessed, the images that my memory, my oh-so-good visual memory, refuses to give up.
When I review those images I always end up thinking about my kids, my nieces and nephews, and now my grand kids and the life we live, desperately thankful that my family isn’t on the street.
And while you may want to open your heart to them, you can’t let every street kid that ignites even a flicker of compassion crash on your sofa or build a snug squat in the backyard. You can’t be another cresting wave on the couch surfing tsunami they’re riding. In fact, once you’ve done it for one of the hard core street kids the word gets out and the 2 AM shuffle begins again and again. You will sacrifice your own peace, your own nights, the time you need to make sense of a world in turmoil. Your nights turn into a restless shuffle that starts with settling the kid after making sure they’ve eaten, that they’ve washed and showered, that they’re not dangerously high on something, and then you spend an uneasy time lying awake listening, making sure they’re not ripping you off in the night, then rising early to help them pack it up, putting together a hastily assembled lunch bag, hoping that there’s enough usable protein and nutrition, guiding them out of your home so that you can fumble your way to take your place in the world you’re living in which theirs obliquely parallels.
You wave goodbye, and hope you never to see them again, knowing that somehow you haven’t done enough.
All you ever really want to do is to tell them to go home.
But home isn’t always a safe place. Its helping them to identify Last Known Safe that is the toughest.
There’s a phrase we used some time ago in the systems support world of computers; Last Known Good Configuration. I’m not really sure what happened to the expression but it doesn’t seem to be in common usage anymore. I tested it on some of the younger analysts who work in our IT shop recently and they had no feel for it, any more than they knew where the expression ‘computer bug’ came from.
Some of the brilliant teams I have worked with in the past made light of it, and in fact there was sing-song rhythmic acronym we used, calling it out over the walls of the cubicles we found ourselves confined to when we were trying to help users with what to do next after a failed upgrade, update or software installation that didn’t work the way it was expected to; LKG. Give it a try…L–K–G. It has a nice sense to it that allows a lot of different cadences so you develop a rhythm that you can easily fall into.
it struck me the other day that the acronym, that the core expression can be applied to the situation that so many of the street kids find themselves in. We can all follow the advice as we fight to stand our ground in a world that has gone horribly wrong through all of the upgrades and updates that we’ve allowed and accepted and tried to impose and allowed to be imposed on our lives and our ways of life.
Last Known Safe.
Let’s do a reset, a restore to Last Known Safe.
check these folks out in Edmonton. http://www.yess.org ‘loyal to the pavement’
The phrase ‘last known safe’ is something that I’ve used in one of the stories that I’m writing for myself.
A young man who is going home to see his family after some time away is advised by friends that should things not work out he is to return to them, to the place where his friends are, to the place of Last Known Safe.