Thursday, January 10, 2013

Who are those street people anyway?


Who are those street people anyway? The term "street people" originated during the late 1960s when the hippie revolution started. Suburban White kids flocked to the new promised land around Haight Street in San Francisco. The street was free and fun. You could get anything there. You could find life and love.

The early, rebellious post-adolescents left their sock hops and muscle cars behind to live in personal, intellectual and spiritual freedom. They also discovered chemical and sexual freedom. The survivors discovered personal responsibility and fled the streets. Sadly, many never completed the cycle and they dropped out for the long term.

A second wing of post adolescents were drafted into the armed forces. Most of them were sent to Vietnam. Many came back  bent, broken, twisted and addicted. They brought new cultures, new ideas and new drugs with them. Nothing made sense. No one made sense. Many were reabsorbed, but many joined the street.

A third wing of non rebellious youth took another direction. More young people were able to attend college. Even more were able to get into skilled trades. That group expanded their lives and educations while they gained upward mobility within "the system". They left home, but they took their social orders with them. 

The 1970s was a heady, horrible era. American post adolescents found a vast, open marketplace of young bodies, convincing ideas, exotic cultures... and prey.

Opportunists had fertile new hunting grounds during the late 1960s and early 1970s. They found free sex, drug buyers, gullible minds and a place to conceal their darkest secrets.

The evolving street lifestyle allowed young people to experiment with life. Life presented dangerous experiments: Illicit drugs, forbidden politics, poverty and unwanted pregnancies.  


"Alternative" was the word of the day. 

New religious leaders used way too much incense and charismatic new politicians rambled on about unworkable German and Russian political theories. Academic leaders nudged  their students into the new era of "free thinking". 

The grannies could not understand why Jimmy Joe and Louise were always in the rec room, giggling, eating too much and uttering random, bizarre statements like "Euclid was a Fu**ing genius!"
In the early days of the street movement, no one realized how many would would be permanently rendered unfit for society. The Hippie majority abandoned their fallen and returned to accept society's natural progression: Marriage, children and long careers at the same firm.   

LSD and addictive drugs were no longer exotic indulgences. 

They were fearsome consumer goods. The remaining hippies were fraying at the psyches. They were dirty, crazy and poor. They were the shabby remnants of a colorful, dizzy revolution. They were the elder statesmen and women of the streets. 

The Hippie era ended a long time ago, so who are these new street people?

The Hippies had younger brothers and sisters who saw what was happening. They learned before it was too late. They became "Yuppies",  scared so straight that they did not loosen up until the 1980s.

Today, the term "street people" applies to the adamant homeless, drug addicts, runaways,  the mentally ill, the situational homeless or  anyone who spends most of their idle time in the streets

The younger brothers and sisters found new ways to escape society. They escaped with Big Cocaine, Big Pharma, Big Alcohol and Big Money. These things provided cleaner, more comfortable  freedoms. The Yuppies traveled, partied and indulged everyone with the finest schools, distractions and materialistic goods.

Some of the Yuppies fell and found their way to the streets. Many created homes so dysfunctional their children and grandchildren found it safer to live on the roads and streets.

The world was one giant drug and alcohol culture by the late 1980s. A larger population of dropouts is the natural consequence. 

 Add them to the existing population of alcoholics, mentally ill, situational homeless and those who are otherwise unwilling to live off the streets.

Many of today's street people are mistakenly defined. 

To us, their lives have no recognizable structure. They do not present themselves as productive members of a community or business enterprise. Such assessments are dysfunctional because there can be a lot of structure to any street community.

Some street communities come with organizational leaders, rules support infrastructures, underground businesses, organized behaviors and ways of looking out for group members.

The term "street people" could be expanded to include street criminals. The criminal component of street society can be more powerful than any other social group including the government. Drug and criminal organizations come with corporate business plans today. Most of them come with their own militarized law enforcement agencies.

Every major urban center works within a complex matrix of services and facilities for the street population. 

Cities provide special law enforcement details, food kitchens and mobile clinics. Cities reach out to the street population and the street population reaches in when they need help. 

The term "street people" could encompass those who work with the street as they provide public safety and public service. That is not a good idea. Those people are outsiders who step inside from time to time. They float like a crust on top of the homeless, street dwelling human mass. They do not self-identify as street people, but as something above and beyond the lost souls who roam free.

Who are those street people? We get the poorest answers when "journalists" have nothing better to do than to hang out and take a few gritty black and white photos. They always seek out the most photogenic and talkative specimens. They like street people who have that marketable look: haggard, misshapen and strangely capable of crossing ethnic lines. 

We know who those street people are.  

They are the elephant sitting in our rooms. We are bound to recognize an old college physics professor, a doctor, a Unit Commander or a former musical prodigy. Lucky parents are bound to track down their runaway children. Lost siblings are bound to find a missing brother or sister. Some children are bound to find a wandering, elderly parent. A school friend is bound to recognize another school friend.

Street people are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, physicists, geniuses, prodigies, criminals, losers, winners, lovers, wives, husbands, classmates, strangers, old friends, new friends, veterans and those of fallen or fractured mind.

Street people are who they were before they were street. 

That is who those street people have always been. That is who they will always be, whether they were young and beautiful when they arrived, or whether they just stepped off the latest bus to nowhere. They came from a family, were once part of an institution or left a community behind.

It could happen to anyone. Even the mighty have fallen. 


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