Enormous numbers of people are not equipped to negotiate complex mental and emotional issues. The wonders of psychotropic drugs have been relied upon for 50 to 60 years now to deal with mental health issues, rather than talking to another person. Without a capacity for critical psychological thinking, most people have no language to articulate what’s going on inside them.
There is also limited time with the current pace of life and scheduled services for genuine conversation and problem-solving discussions. What people do have is an endless array of violence, depicted in movies, TV and assorted media, as models for conflict resolution methods and, since childhood, of broken relationships. And 300,000,000 guns.
Over the course of the last year-and-a-half, I’ve spent a significant amount of time at Bums Alley (where individuals hang out for camaraderie) and at the carving shop on State Street in northwest Rutland with people dealing with addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, mental illness and poverty. Desperation and loneliness are profound around here. People who have shifted into survival mode are changed human beings.
The benches are gone from Depot Park. The courthouse removed the benches from its two adjacent parks. The outside picnic tables and inside booths across the street at Stewart’s have been removed, too. The benches are now gone from the ASA building. The library is packed with people who aren’t there to read. Trying to make “undesirable” people invisible is not going to work. It only leads to further isolation and disconnect from the community.
People need a welcoming creative place to express themselves, especially angry, alienated, isolated and lonely, down-and-out people. Creating together and contributing to their community gives hope, meaning and purpose to otherwise discouraging and lost days.
Specifically, northwest Rutland needs a neighborhood center on State Street staffed with counselors who can accommodate the social needs of this sizeable disaffected population, and where there is a bathroom with a shower, a laundry room and a kitchen. Aspects of Pine Street Inn’s 50-year run in Boston may be instructive. The neighborhood center needs to function as a social service referral base of operations. And, definitely, it needs to be a place local people can identify with, so eventually it will be run by residents of this neighborhood.
State Street in northwest Rutland is the ideal place to start. It will take a team of social service professionals with lots of patience and TLC to address this area’s distrust, alienation and nihilism. People know when they are treated like disposable things. In his 1966 book, “Heart of Man,” the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said when a person feels treated like a thing, destructive behavior results.
Our larger community would be prudent to seriously consider manifesting such an effort, which would reap real economic, security and social rewards should we choose to find ways of engaging with this population. Disappearing people with shame or by incarceration is no solution at all, and it is extremely costly, both financially and socially.
Advocating for the civil rights of “free” choice of these individuals is a legal, yet a disingenuous tool of dismissal that lacks humanity and doesn’t deal with the problem. This legality is a gigantic stumbling block, and we really must figure out a humane way to overcome its invasive impact on the streets.
After the 1929 crash, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to his elite business friends and told them to either give the American people something tangible or lose all that they had worked for. The business elite wasn’t too happy, but with the Depression and subsequent 1932 vote, legislation followed that transformed the country. And, here in Rutland, with this big uptick in violence and homelessness, what shall we do?
It behooves our community to find ways to engage this not-very-invisible part of our community. Providing the opportunity and concrete space to come together to create and share underlying talents allows for common ground, genuine collaboration and an emotional outlet for saddened and frustrated individuals, many who have not truly been seen or heard since early childhood. Such a center would offer a setting for people to begin to acclimate to relating comfortably with one another in a natural way. It would give them hope and a tangible beginning to addressing their daily discouragements and challenges with others who understand and want to be there.
This is just what normal, loving communities do; create amiable social environments where people go to eat and talk and get involved with one another … being human.
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Nick Santoro, of Rutland, who spent 40 years carving stone sculptures until a back operation mostly sidelined that career. He has worked on the community action videos “Gardens Grow Community” and “Baxter Street Alley.”