The other day I sat at a stop light at the intersection of Route 175 and Dobbin Road, waiting to turn left and go to Target. As I waited for the light to change, I noticed a bearded man at the corner, holding up a sign."Grandfather..." it began. I turned my eyes away, not wishing to encourage him. I've been told many times not to give money; it enables addiction. As I looked away I noticed that similar sign holders were standing at three out of four of the corners of the intersection. The other two were women.
Three out of four. I may have gotten used to seeing, and then not seeing, *one* as I travel around town. But three out of four? It felt overwhelming.
Do you remember when JessieX wrote a series of blog posts about the Dobbin Starbucks? (It was around 2008, BCA.) When I got home I went straight to the computer to find them. I was searching for an observation that had been going round and round in my brain since I sat at the red light on 175. I couldn't find it, so I am going to have to reconstruct it from my (imperfect) memory. The gist of it was that the true center of Columbia, the "hip, happening place" was the Dobbin Starbucks.
Yes, the Dobbin Starbucks has moved since then, but not by enough to shift the center of gravity, IMHO. And now I feel the connection: here is the center of Columbia, and here are the poor/unemployed/homeless/panhandlers at their posts. They are not at the Lakefront, or by the Mall; they are at the crossroads of commerce: outcasts in an outparcel.
As I write I can see Downtown Naysayers jumping to their feet, saying, "See? That's exactly why we don't want our beautiful Town Center to be polluted by development. If you build it, They will come."
But that's not the point. The point is that They are here. They are here. The location is not the point. Putting poverty in an outparcel doesn't make it more acceptable. The poor are with us--in Howard County and in Columbia itself.
Hocoblogger Tom Coale has taken poverty off the street corner and out of the woods with his "Living In Recovery" Crowdrise campaign on his blog, HoCoRising. He sees, quite rightly, that it doesn't matter where they are; it matters where they are going.
The suffering we can see makes us uncomfortable. The suffering we can't see is easier for us to ignore. But as many of our friends and neighbors call out to each other through social media in the aftermath of Friday's storm, what is it like for them? Can we even imagine?
I'm excited by the local support for Tom's campaign. I'm even more excited by the new initiatives I see bubbling up, inspired by his vision. So let's get that combined vision-and-action on three, no, four out of four street corners in the #hoco.
So our neighbors won't be standing there alone.