Monday, January 23, 2012
COFFEE: Is It Good or Safe? CAFE LIFE Doesn't Discriminate Between Homeless and Housed People
Maybe Humanity's Unity And Growth
Hangs On The Culture of Coffee Beans?
Around Occupy Santa Cruz, and in fact all around town in the City of Santa Cruz, there has been a refreshed QUESTIONING: to Coffee or not to Coffee? People were taught that it's like a drug and if overused, like a dangerous drug. Yet in recent years, one is just as likely to read in the newsprint of commerce that Coffee is GOOD FOR YOU as you are to read otherwise.
Because I often work with and around homeless people, I forgot it was "unhealthy", and so have developed a "habit" which requires a cup of Joe every morning. Among the actually and truly "poor" in our area, both coffee and candy don't get put through the psychic ringer of critical popular opinion when mentioned, as it does in other circles. I have to be careful about sugar, I'm told I am someone who could become diabetic if I am not careful with my blood sugar. So I DO be careful. On the other hand, I understand the greater tolerance of people who generally and essentially have NOTHING, and who thus show gratitude (generally) when people share with them, even if what is shared are these quasi-sinful chemicals.
I've been thinking about how different this scenario -- open-early coffeehouses in every business district -- has changed the face of our day to day commerce. It seems apparent that the stricter the downtowns and shopping malls get about "move along and spend", about not sitting nor "loitering" nor "lodging"; then the more abundance comes to cafe-land. More customers, more cups of caffeine drunk.
But a hot cup of coffee isn't really the main attraction!
It seems to me that the larger, housed population has followed homeless people's lead where it comes to coffee drinking. In short, people are using the acceptance of coffee drinking to create and expand social space.
Homeless people have been obliged to cultivate acceptance by the Barista folks, in order to turn their coffee drinking spots into their living rooms, their dens, their offices, and even -- tho' harder to accomplish -- their bathrooms. And now in 2012, everyone else seems to be doing it, too.
Rents are high, here where my family lives in the County of Santa Cruz. So the people who must work for their means of support are being forced into ever-smaller, or ever more populated, homes.
When I was busy raising my children not too many years back, we were living near Barson and Ocean Streets in a small, converted (from motor court), subsidized, 9-unit apartment building on a one-block residential street near the gateway to this town's Boardwalk and the crowded Beach Flats neighborhood. I came to realize that within any given year, my neighbors each and all took turns inviting relatives or friends to sleep on their kitchen floors. I'm saying, there wasn't even enough space to offer "couch surfing", yet the nature of our transient and fluctuating society means sometimes we have to put people up.
And we who live "below the poverty line" nonetheless live within the same pressures and expectations as those who feel they are still in a middle class. Poor people ALSO have guests who have driven a long way to see their gran'kids or nephews, and who can't afford a hotel room (especially here, most of the year!). Poor people also want the chances to do a favor for their mechanics or their chimney rebuilder or the person from church who shortly needs a ride to the airport in the wee hours, just like people with an adequate income, they want to survive in this society.
They just don't have much to work with, but they live within the same societal pressures, demands and expectations. People who are housed but poor, who have to move, are likely to be homeless for a few months, unless they have relatives who are better off (or some similar pressure-release valve). And this "few months" assumption presumes there won't be FURTHER stressors in the transition.
For much more than a decade now, homeless people and other poor or low income people have been using the cafe scene as an extension of our homes and workplaces, because we had no choice. It seems this wasn't very often noticed -- the bad word, "homeless" was used more and more to talk ONLY about those already destroyed on the streets, or those with a bad attitude (sooner or later everyone has a bad day...) or those who appear to be bums or drunks or loaded and very confused.
I am NOT a different person when I am homeless than I am when I am housed. My goals, my values remain the same. I spend a LOT longer looking for places to go to the bathroom, but I am still a human being. As we wake up and smell the coffee, we could look around, and begin to notice people at the cafe -- reading the paper, paying their bills, interviewing a future employee, looking for a space away from the younger children for a moment, hoping to make a new friend -- homeless or housed, we are learning to share by extending our lives into what had been considered "public" space. As we learn to share in such an "organized" situation where the rules are known and the cost of a Cup o' Joe is a few dollars, we are also learning to take care of ourselves without the security blanket of private housing. And THIS gives me hope: hope that more and more people will become free to check out the Occupy Movement and in other ways plan for a more self-and-others future; and more people will realize they don't need as much STUFF as they've been taught to have; and more of us will realize that the distinctions between housed and homeless people are mostly imagined.