Friday, April 13, 2018

“It is beneath human dignity to lose one’s individuality and become a mere cog in the machine”

Our latest blog post comes from 2017-18 Dominican Volunteer Niki Klco.

DV Niki Klco
Niki serves at the Siena House, a homeless shelter for young mothers and their children in the Bronx New York. She reflects on this systemic obstacles that homeless people face and the necessity of recognizing the humanity of each and every person.

In this day in age being homeless is not just for the poor. With rent on a one-bedroom apartment being $1200 per month in the Bronx to $3500 per month in New York City being homeless or scraping for money to pay rent is common. The records say 63,500 people are homeless in New York City. Not only is this number the highest number of people since the Great Depression, but this only counts people spending the night in shelters. What about all of those people spending the night on the streets for which we have no countable number? One source estimates 4,000 more people are on the streets each night. Since working at Siena House Shelter in the Bronx I would even contest the total numbers that I have just listed. Here in the city it is required that residents prove that they are indeed homeless. Simply saying that you live outside or keep moving around from shelter to shelter is not good enough. Prove it! Prove to us that bridge in your picture is where you sleep, prove that you have been up all night riding the subway, and prove that you deserve a place in one of our shelters. With admirable intent in the 1970s a court law was passed that anyone who is homeless in New York City must be sheltered, but what do the consequences become when good intentions turn into making people into numbers on a page? “It is beneath human dignity to lose one’s individuality and become a mere cog in the machine” (Mahatma Gandhi).

            “Amen brother!” is my response to Gandhi’s statement. For, with so many people experiencing homelessness, people become nothing more than numbers… Who is moved in? Who is moved out? How fast? Have we done our required duty so that we can move onto the next case? It is a systemic issue that converts our people to numbers. Not only one person can break the chain. As Bai Ki-moon states, “Our work for human dignity if often lonely, and almost always an uphill climb. At times, our efforts are misunderstood, and we are mistaken for the enemy.” So, what can individuals do to have any impact as we fight against the current structure? I’ve found that if I come to work with the intention of being present to each and every resident daily that it not only creates a relationship, but from there I can share in the one human journey. At this point it doesn’t change the whole system, but I’m hoping that I do some good each day.  I don’t have answers for how to change the system, but I grapple with it consistently. As a start, I urge people to see the humanity in those around them - feeling is truth - and no one wants to feel as a cog in the machine. These people are our friends, family, and neighbors and we cannot let ourselves stoop to approving of them becoming numbers in a system!
Niki and Dominican Sister Gertrude Simpson OP of her Bronx community

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