Why do i do this?

I’ve watched my small town over the past 10 years grow at an accelerated rate and the term “gentrification” gets thrown around more and more. The thing about that word is often its only used to describe the residents driven out in the short term. Eventually though, everyone suffered as what once was a tourist destination become a bustling metropolis. As more people moved to my city, developers were given a free pass to erect new condominiums. As property taxes rose at an accelerated rate, most small and medium landlords were forced to charge as much as these new buildings just to keep up. Over the course of several decades many became unable to keep up with operating costs as a result. In my city, it once took pride in its historical allure. Inside and out our state, city, and preserved historic properties were history itself. I see the bigger picture now, eventually by simply setting up shop in cities like mine big developers played the long game. They suck the life out of the properties in the city until they can buy them for pennies on the dollar.
Why does this matter? I’ll tell you…for just about any working class person in a city it is very hard to both pay rent and put food on the table. Everyone’s struggling with something, in my city there are people sleeping outside in below 0 temperatures because our shelters are overflowing. As rents go up and wages stay the same, many more end up in this situation. Twice this winter we have done clothing drives in a city center where I live. In my city, the day shelter will often tell certain needy citizens they cannot enter the building. Some of the people we talked to told us how they’re only recently homeless, they lost the apartment first and the job followed soon after without even being guaranteed a bed in the shelter at night. We have our rural citizens at risk of losing access to water because companies are allowed to extract and sell it mislabeled as “spring water”. With all the talk about climate change we have politicians pushing for more natural gas pipelines and not solar. Just like everywhere else our state government seems intent on running it through tribal land at any cost.
Its awful, and the reality is that its only going to get worse. When the drug epidemic hit the homeless population it only exponentiation things. It made it harder for people to escape the cycle, and drew many more in. People are often seen getting high in public, and whole neighborhoods have fallen apart. The violence that comes with drug sales, as well as use has entirely preoccupied the public servants meant to protect citizens. Over the years, many reasonable police officers have been weathered by experience. Imagine how conditioned a person can become doing the same thing EVERY DAY. Imagine dealing with violent drug addicts every day, now we have a police force likely laden with undiagnosed PTSD, and nobody to actually stop the people getting high in public. The direct result is overdoses, here the system is grossly incapable of even curbing the problem. Recently a video went viral here when a homeless person videotaped himself injecting heroin into his neck in the side mirror of a police car in broad daylight. This is how bad it is! If nothing is done, sooner or later many of these people will die. It is just the hard truth to accept when you see stories like 24 people dying on the street at night in Chicago freezing to death, some outside a hotel. If its not the cold, it will be the drugs, and sadly there really is no way out. To even get an apartment again these people depend immensely on rental vouchers they may wait years for. Sadly now these programs cant even afford to pay the rent in these apartments anywhere now making our shelter a true “dead end” for many.
In so many ways this could have been me, and nearly was at time. The even harsher reality was that not even money can avert some tragedies like addiction. At an early age I was misdiagnosed with ADHD and prescribed the wrong medication that upset my brain chemistry at a young age. As I matured, doctors instructed my parents to prescribe pill after pill until eventually I came to simply hate everyone. I myself turned to street drugs in hopes of simply not feeling anymore. Sadly, I became a male member of #metoo at an abhorrently young age and by high school I hated the world. No rehabilitation facility could strip me of the fact that for years things had been done TO me, but because doctors labelled me as crazy nobody believed me. Its not my parent’s fault, from such a young age at each step of the road people had to interject their opinions as “facts” to two genuinely compassionate people with love in their hearts. I never started out seeing whats wrong with society and wanting to fix it, in fact I have lost count of the number of times I tried to quit early. I spent years in the darkness having lost faith in humanity, I’d truthfully never seen any part of society that I felt wasn’t capable of saving. When I met my wife was the first time I remember truly resolving myself to walk down a different path, but for a long time that path was simply sobriety and mental health.
After a couple years into my sobriety things were really good, I had been volunteering and life was for once “good” in my personal life…things turned around. This is the hard part in addiction, I don’t know if I got scared of the direction my life was going or I simply wanted to get high again, but I relapsed and broke up with my wife and we spent several months apart. In these few months apart I hit the lowest low to date, and what happened made me reevaluate everything. The way I saw it was either accept I will likely end up killing myself as a result of my addiction and the darkness affixed to that lifestyle, or I can try and put my life back together. By some stroke of god my wife and I managed to reconnect and actually mend much of what had previously been problematic in our relationship. The experiences I had while we were apart evoked the fear of god in this one, to even contemplate a high other than marijuana is truly frightening. I finally found a love for life, for the light, and now viewed life through a whole different lens.
If someone like me can actually get to a point of this much stability, I finally started looking at everything else through a new lens. I wanted to fix everything now instead of curse it, I wanted others who felt pain like myself to learn what love feels like. For someone who had truly lived years in the dark, the light was like experiencing god himself. I grew up in the Jewish community and found no greater joy than doing Tikkun Olam, or bettering the world. I spent time doing peer support for a time in the acute psych unit sharing comfort with those in crisis, and shared words from experience. There is no real other way to put it than something was almost awakened in me, slowly over the last 3 years or so. I made a conscious commitment to myself, my wife, and god that I would from then on BE love and light and from then on it felt almost duty to make the world better.
To put my chaotic life into a logical place, I had to make good come of it. If I can use my experiences in some way to help another person then it wasn’t for nothing. If I can help stop child abuse then perhaps god worked through me, knowing I could handle a challenging lesson in life. As an activist these days I often wonder if I had not lived the life I have, would I even do this, and I don’t think so. Something about “actionably” attempting to fix society or the planet I feel in me is rooted in those experiences. In many ways I am empowered by them, for so long I felt ashamed, guilty, broken, or like I would never amount to anything but turning it around showed me how much I actually may be capable of. I found quickly that one person can affect much more than they are aware of, and thats my approach to life…help whenever I can. As I connect with more people I find more ways to simply do good. Whether its big things or small, I put good back out there. I cant have expectations either when I volunteer or offer my time, I have things I hope will succeed, sure, but I need small victories too. If I can each day, just knowing I helped someone out or made someones day, it all matters. I try to not forget the now in sake of the later, nor do I want to ever forget those around me. In today’s world with the threat of global war or disaster, we truly must try and cherish and value each day as they are all blessings. None of us will ever know how much time we have left, but we can hope for many joyous days. To me a day spent doing good is the most joyous of days, and the best cure for a previous addiction to substances that clouded my mind. I have to look at these problems in the world in a way that leaves room for optimism and change. It doesn’t take much to make someones day, and sometimes saving a life can be equally easy. In recent days, connecting with so many more like minded people there isn’t a doubt in my mind that things are going to change for the better. Knowing how many people are ready to stand up for the light, and all that is good is all the convincing I will ever need to keep going. FOREVER, be LOVE, be PEACE, be YOURSELF, we are all ONE.

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