Walls and the “Other”

Last week while walking around campus looking for places of shelter, it was obvious that very inadequate structural spaces provide protection from the elements, and all of these are familiar to anyone who has ever seen homelessness is an urban environment; under a bridge, on the front steps of a building with giant doors, next to a heat vent, etc. I live in Rochester and see this everyday, and with our classes’ exercise and the conditions of Butler’s future America fresh in my mind, the rain last week felt heavy.

Most of us are accustomed to preconceived judgments towards homeless people or panhandlers, and when they are in abundance, especially of the latter, we are expected to ignore them. More often than not, we are to view these people as the “other”; drug-addicts, abusers, or “difficult”. I have definitely desensitized myself, as I’m sure most of us have; I am privileged to be a student, but I am not in a position to give away my student loans, and if I let these depressing sights, or the frequently-aggressive panhandling get to me, my fragile financial situation would turn into a dire one.

A city does not want its tourists or workers to experience homelessness, so most of , if not all of it, is pushed out of view. Going eastbound onto I-490 from downtown Rochester, there are dozen of tents in a fenced in area underneath a ramp; loud, smoggy, but away from the city. In my hometown Ithaca, NY, a small city but with a proportionally large heroin epidemic, the homeless live by a water inlet near the industrial parks and Wegmans, a fenced-in area near the railroad tracks that was nicknamed “The Jungle” while I was still in high school, where in recent years was subject to much scrutiny and unsolved arson and murder.

Lauren lives in her gated community, safe from the violence and drugs of from the “outsiders”, Keith’s story arc last week proved the corruptibility of the outside. Do the homeless communities in our own city experience this kind of safety in their literally “gated” communities? To reach even further, are we trapped in the boundaries that we set within a city, a state, or a country? I am interested in how the book will expand upon the people who live outside of the communities it focuses on, and if it will take an empathetic or reflective turn on what we define as “walls”, “freedom”, and “community”.

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