Interview with David Hazen 2-6-20
Laura DuBois: Why has the problem of homelessness grown so rapidly in Eugene?
David Hazen: Much like global warming, this problem is getting worse faster than we predicted.
What I’ve been putting together recently is the big picture.
Since post-WWII, America has been building a global empire. Now that empire has peaked and is in decline. Again, like global warming, people are in denial that this is happening. That’s why people want to “make america great again,” and it’s not going to happen.
The shorter view is that the federal support for the social safety net (particularly for housing) has been shrinking, has been becoming more limited. So support for building roads and bridges has shrunk, so employment has shrunk. Support for families and children has shrunk. Money is going into the military and subsidies for oil companies and big agriculture, so you can say the military-industrial-congressional-media complex is sick, it has a disease. That’s a kind way of looking at it.
I’m not surprised that we have a crisis of not just people being evicted, or being in personal life mismanagement stress that is unresolved, that leads people into making poor decisions, as well as just helplessly being thrown out on the street. I myself reflect that I could be this far from being homeless myself, even though I live in a house, I have a car, I have many luxuries that homeless people don’t have. And yet if events cascaded in a certain matter, I could be out on the street. I’m dependent on my wife, I’m dependent on entire systems of support that keep me in my house. So, I’m very frequently reminded that I’m doing all right, but I better take care to stay alert, to stay out of self pity, because it could easily devolve into that. I’m grateful for all the support I have.
I’m a recovering addict, and I know that it’s a disease, and I know how much hard work it takes to “pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps” – it’s not entirely that way – I mean there’s treatment, there are mutually support 12-step programs that are available. But I also know how much courage it takes to ask for help.
I go and I listen to staff at St. Vincent’s, and I hear the county people talk, and they’re always quoting these statistics about how awful it is, how little money there is, how little resources and time and facilities there is, and I’m sitting there thinking, yeah, that’s all true, AND there’s other things happening that we’re not paying attention to. There are resources, there are thousands of people that want to help, but they don’t know how to plug in. That’s sort of my new mission in life, to not only make those people aware, but to help them get over that initial fright, of contacting people they THINK are so different from themselves – they’re not, they’re not.
One of the best things I ever did for myself is to go and interview someone at one of the rest stops, about their life story. This guy’s story was so close to mine. The only difference was that his house burned down w/o insurance.
Laura DuBois: Why has the problem gotten so bad so quickly? Is it that people have become more visible, or do we truly have that much of an increase in Eugene in the last 2 years?
David Hazen: The latter. I think that because you see more people indicates that the total number has expanded. I think the percentage of people who are willing to be visible is probably the same. There is a very large number of the people that are not willing to be visible, either because of the shame, or because they don’t want to be a statistic in this data system. They don’t to be counted in the PIT count, they don’t want to be known or seen, because they don’t trust the system, they don’t trust the people that want to help, because the kind of help they’ve received is denigrating, shame based, it’s unfortunately, coming from the mindset of a RESCUER.
130 new people become homeless in Lane county EVERY MONTH, every month. That’s the upstream input into the system every month. The output into permanent housing is much lower, there’s a big gap. That’s why we’re seeing the numbers go up and up and up.
No matter how much we pat ourselves on the back and say see what good we’re doing, it’s NOT ENOUGH. What I see is rescuing, and I don’t see much prevention. Why aren’t people working on prevention?
Programs to pay electric bills, help with mortgage payment, is NOT ENOUGH. It’s last minute, and it’s still rescuing.
Laura DuBois: What’s your idea of ideal prevention?
David Hazen: Its radical – it’s getting our entire city, the whole community, the core of Lane county, beginning to identify itself as ONE TEAM. Just like we all support the Ducks, YEAH, we’re all part of the club – well, that’s one kind of self-identity. We need to have a different kind, that’s like, … THIS WAY, not all over in many different ways.
WE’RE NOT COMPETING WITH EACH OTHER, WE’RE NOT CONFLICTED WITH EACH OTHER, WE HAVE A COMMON SOCIAL agreement, that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have. No one person is going to figure this out and lead us to the promised land. We’ve got to do this together.
This is not just Eugene, this is our whole western culture, extending into Europe. The sense of separation, that we are individual units living in our own little bubbles. And so we have this shame based thing that my particular bubble isn’t a rainbow color, it’s kind of muddy, and I have to fix it. No, it’s not like that. We have to fix it. We have to change the “me” to “we.”
I’m here to say it IS possible to shift from “me” to “we”.
Books David recommends:
- The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (2000)
- Walk Out, Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now (2011)
- Community: The Structure of Belonging (2018)
Most of our social problems arise from the fact that we don’t feel we belong. So many people in Eugene just live here, but they don’t own it. They don’t own the city as this is my city, what happens here is my responsibility, I need to contribute, maybe I don’t know how to get involved, but at least I’m going to stick my foot out and say I want to help, I’m here to listen and learn, and I’m here to do what I can, because I BELONG HERE.
My view is that so many people just live here, they live within their house, with their family members, the boundaries of their car that gets them to work and shopping, the boundaries of that job, and that’s it for them. It’s a very small world. It’s suffocating, if you really think about it or start to really feel it. That’s the other thing: Most people aren’t really in touch with their feelings. They’re always thinking what’s wrong with this, that, the other thing. There’s all this analysis paralysis.
This is not a Eugene problem. This is global, and it’s a human existential crisis, brought on by global warming, but it’s bigger than that. We’re being called to become a different kind of human BEING, “being” being the operative word. We need to look inwards at ourselves and ask: Who am I, why and I here and where am I going? and get those 3 questions at least a little bit nailed, so we have some clarity that we’re not just here for ourselves. I mean, I understand where that comes from, where that arose, mostly from the industrial world, where we quit working with the dirt in the garden, and we started working in factories with punch clocks, and shopping…All that capitalism. I’m not saying capitalism per say is bad, but it got twisted, just like Christianity got twisted, Catholicism got twisted, Judaism got twisted, Islam got twisted. In fact, I don’t know if there’s any world religion that didn’t get twisted. My personal path is to get back to what those fundamental religions are really trying to say, and the usual fundamental message is : Wake up, dummy! You are part of this grand experiment! You belong here, and you have a purpose for your life. Don’t go thinking the purpose of your life is to make a million dollars and leave it to your family.
Laura DuBois: Concrete ways to help?
David Hazen: I’m producing a video project (Who Is My Neighbor?) to work at living room level, small groups coming together, being vulnerable with each other about what’s really going on in their lives, with people they’re willing to trust with that information, because they are neighbors.
They form a team identity at the neighborhood level. The people within 1 block of my house, I’m going to trust. A basic building block of community, then spreading that inclusion “these are my people”, so that boundary then can be stretched even further, and then we’re more willing to take a risk to actually talk to someone who’s flying a sign on the corner, and talk to them for more than 30 seconds, maybe even 5 minutes. Once that starts to happen, I think it starts a river, it’s a crack in the dam.
I think it’s important to work at that level, instead of leaping into action (i.e., donate 10 hours a week at Egan warming center).
Emotional armor surrounds a life of privilege. No matter how much we want to help, how noble our intentions are, if we don’t address certain issues, we’ll get to a certain non-verbal barrier where we just get burnt out, we don’t want to help anymore, it’s like, I can’t do it, and we stop.
So, we need to look within ourselves to our own history of trauma, and how that affected us. We need to be a “trauma-informed” community. The people who are helping need to be self aware of our own history of trauma. Because that’s where the empathy is going to start. If we are blind to our own trauma, and we think we’ve “got it together”, then we’re always going to have the attitude that these other people don’t have it together, and they’re poor, inadequate, disabled people, which is not the truth. They’re traumatized people, that’s what they are. And we’re all traumatized, and we’re all walking wounded, and we need to get to that place where we’ve all been through the war, and actually the war is still going on. It’s just not bullets in the street here, we’re not being fired on with rockets and mortar shells, but it’s almost the same. There are people dying, there are people sick.
That’s for me, the starting point, unravelling that armor. And there are very different ways of doing that. Art therapy, body work, but combined with potent questions. I’ve become very aware of the power of asking the right questions, if you want certain answers, you have to ask the right question. Then allow the answer to come, not do what are called “leading” questions, but open-ended questions. Appreciative inquiry is another field where a great deal of progress has been made by asking empowering questions about what’s working, how is that working, why does it work, what’s so good about it: Focusing on the solutions rather than the problem. The more we focus on the problem, the bigger it gets. That’s what we’re doing now, focusing on the problem, on what’s wrong, rather than what’s right.
I have found that when I do that, the core problem is a decision I made, about what’s possible, what’s not possible, what’s wrong. I made a decision once to never trust anybody. That set me up for a world of pain, for years and years and years, until I realized “Oh, I did that to myself! Oh my God! Can I undo that? Yeah, I think I can. It may be hard, I may have to practice a little bit and fail a little bit, but I’m going to try.” And, I’m still trying! But it gets easier the more you do it.
For me, LOVE IS A PRACTICE. It’s not something you think about, it’s not something you write essays about (although I’ve done that) – love is something you DO.
Love is a process, love is a practice. You do it, it’s an experience. You do it, in order to BE it. And that’s transformative for me personally. And I have this belief, and I think it’s supported by evidence, that when I transform myself personally, the people that I’m in touch with start to change, WITHOUT me doing anything to change them. How does that work? I suppose I could figure that out, but I don’t need to.
It’s a practice. Well, I compare it to martial arts. When you’re in a school of martial arts, you progress with belts, you start with a white belt, then a yellow belt, then a green belt, then a brown belt, then finally get a black belt. But you do it by practice, going to the dojo, showing up, and learning the moves, and doing them over and over and over and over and over and over, until you don’t think about them anymore, you just know – all right, time to do this, time to do that. I think it’s that way with love, and being part of a team, and being part of a community, and healing one’s relationships. When you first start out, it seems like “Oh, I’ll never be a black belt. I should go home, watch TV…”
I always ask people, you got anything better to do with your life? All right – go do it! And when you’re tired of that, come back, and then we’ll get into the practice.
The practice, the practice… I’m a student of Richard Rohr and the Franciscan school of theology. St. Francis was a practitioner, that’s what he did. I think it was him who said “Preach the gospel at all time, and when necessary, use words.”
It’s one of my favorite quotes. And that’s what Jesus did. Yeah, they wrote down in the Bible a lot of things he “said”. But what he “did” with his life was his message. What he DID. You know, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, sharing food and healing. He just did it to the best of his ability. Gandhi did that. One of my favorite stories about Gandhi is that he was one of the most angry people on the planet. But you would never know that. What he did with his anger was calmly put one foot in front of the other, to remove the source of irritation with love, not with hate. That’s tough. It’s tough, but it can be done. That’s the great thing about these enlightened masters. They just show us, “If I can do this, you can do this.” If they grew up in a damaged family, under traumatic circumstances, if I had to immigrate from one country to another, if they had to be persecuted by the government, they still did it.They stayed true to their values. And I think everybody values love and compassion in people. It’s a high, high value. But our culture teaches us ‘You can’t do it. It’s not possible. You are a loser, you are a failure, and you need to go shopping so you feel better..”
Government is not going to be our solution, because it’s hierarchical, it’s patriarchal, it’s designed to reinforce people’s sense of shame and separation. It can’t do it. BUT, people at the grassroots level, who connect HORIZONTALLY, with each other as equals, they can do it! That’s my hope, that’s my dream, that’s my vision.
Perpetrator, victim and rescuer – based on low self esteem
Co-creator, challenger & coach – empowered self-identities
Being in these 3 positions, the co-creator, challenger & coach is contagious. My own experience has been, in making this transition from victim to co-creator, is that in between these two there’s a tension of incompleteness. I can do some of this, I can be self-empowered sometimes, not all of the time, I fall into a hole. I still do, but with practice, the hole gets shallower, and I spend less time in it, and I become better able to be part of the whole solution, rather than part of the problem.
Any one of these three positions in the drama triangle is being part of the problem, and any of the positions of being in the empowerment triangle is part of the solution.
I’ve been studying and listening to Richard Rohr talking about “Not Knowing.” It’s a weird paradox, but when you’re in the empowerment triangle, you never know what’s going to happen next, and you give up trying to figure it out. You say, “What surprise is going to happen today? What support for healing and wellness is out there that I don’t know about, I haven’t seen yet, and I’m ready for anything”
That kind of attitude starts to develop, and it’s very humbling. You’re letting go of trying to control things. In this culture, we’re addicted to control. Our whole Western Culture says “Control it, fix it, make it better” and all we wind up doing is making it worse. So the answer to making it better is to stop trying to make it better! And then it is better. It has a lot to do with forming a connection to a higher power, a benevolent universe, whatever you want to call it.
Unconditional trust in unconditional support, from whatever source, make one up, could be people far away, your ancestors…
I have been able to frame my life as a journey from unconditional distrust to unconditional trust. I don’t think I’ll ever be finished working on that, but it’s been fun. And it’s been hard. When I see other people struggling with their level of trust of themselves, other people, the universe, I’m touched. I get very empathetic. For awhile, I was an alcohol and drug counselor. I burned out in 4 years. Most A & D counselors burn out in 2 years. Oh my God, talk about working on the front lines! While I was in training, I did an intake on a 60-year old late-stage alcoholic. When the doctor in charge sent him to out-patient treatment instead of in-treatment patient treatment, within 24 hours that guy committed suicide. I couldn’t handle it, I had to have therapy. I had to go get supervision, go talk to my boss. He said, “Look, you did what you needed to do. You were as much help as you could be, the rest is the disease, and it’s huge.” I have a deep-buried rage, just like Gandhi, against the disease of addiction. When I touch that rage, whew! I’m really hurting, because what I see is the damage it’s done, to not just my life, but so many millions and billions of lives, because now I see that addiction isn’t just to chemicals and alcohol. It’s to all sorts of things things – gambling, sex, shopping, the internet, and being right – that’s an addiction, to being right. With addiction, you’re trying to feel better, to readjust your brain and blood chemistry to something like normal, so you can function in the world, without changing the underlying circumstances for that discomfort that arose in the first place. Recovery goes into those underlying circumstances and starts to unravel them. The best way to do that is with other people. You CANNOT recover on your own! There are some people do what’s called white knuckling. They go overboard in control into self control, and some people can do that. But they’re not happy, they’re not free, they’re in prison of their own making.