In Search of Community

I read with interest the article in the Western Star about homelessness.  It suggested that while it is a reality for some in Western Newfoundland, it is basically an invisible problem.  The article says: “homeless people here are more likely found living on a friends couch or at a relative’s.”

Perhaps homelessness, here and elsewhere, is not the real issue, but something more complex.  Providing people a shelter is not necessarily providing them a home, nor can it ever be.  What is evident that the exorbitant cost of shelter these days is making even this basic necessity unreachable for many.  Therein lies part of this complexity.

My most recent article “Reclaiming community and our lives” suggested much of this complexity can be related to, the diminishment of community and local economies and a reliance on central governments to fulfill all of our needs.

On a deeper level, homelessness relates to a disconnect between people and place.  This was the topic of another recent article on “placelessness” as an aspect of globalization and its affect on people.

This article suggested that placelessness “might even be seen as becoming the centre of gravity of the human condition……and yet the placeless still find themselves colliding with a place-bound world……  The placeless often also suffer a growing tension within, a love hate relationship with roots.”

People have been in search of “place” since time began, often a place that provided something different than what they were experiencing.  In times of famine, war and dramatic ecological change this search by people has been exacerbated.

Search is a fundamental aspect of the human psychic and a place that provides comfort and stability underlies much of that search.  This search is not only about a physical place, but most often relates to human spiritual needs.

One could argue that the spiritual famine that currently affects much of the developed world is part of the drive of people to find place and is partially responsible for the sense of placelessness that many in the world feel today.  It, perhaps, is the reason the migrants from poorer countries, in search of physical sustenance, cling so dearly to their religious and spiritual beliefs, often to the consternation of others.

The fact is that a world has been created where placelessness is encouraged.  It is most often forced by economic change and decreed by governments and corporations alike under the guise of mobility.  This allows government to shift responsibility from their jurisdictions and corporations to seek the lowest costs in order to maximize profits.  Forgotten is the concept, which made wealthy countries wealthy, that of creating opportunity where people live.

The genuine homeless are perhaps placeless, having been forced from whatever “community” in which they found comfort and stability.  They now have to exist in a twilight space of need, without the ability to provide for themselves, or receive the support they require.

A Star editorial supporting regionalization, suggested that community has to be more than just a name.  In the context of small communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, the editor said “They have managed to cling to the name but that’s about all they can offer.”  To suggest that community is only about services and taxes is to diminish the reality of community.  (But, this is another topic for later which will relate to the concept of Regionalization (which I support) versus Centralization (which I don’t) and there is a difference).

In Newfoundland and Labrador there still exists the true foundation of community!

This was evident in the recent crisis on the south and east coasts with the impact of hurricane Igor affecting so many small communities.  It was apparent in the article on homeless people.  The homeless referred to are not invisible; they are doing what we have always done in this province in time of transition.  We rely on friends and family to assist us through and to provide comfort and ensure the stability required to move on in life.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have little need to rediscover community, but we have to continually remind ourselves of its value.

There is no government or corporation in the world that can replace community, nor any program, which will enhance it.  True community emanates from the hearts and minds of people.  It deepens with our feelings and support for each other.  It is sustained by a continued belief in ourselves and those around us.

Community exists in the realm of the spirit, rather than in the physical.  This is why community as place is so hard to find; but we do know it when we feel it.

Written by Bill Pardy,

October 18th, 2010

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