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Friday, February 6, 2015

Day 77 - Vandwelling / Homeless and My Bias

I wanted to share this first hand account of two of my friends, both vandwellers and one homeless.  I hope it opens your eyes to the stigma that exists of being homeless and it changes how you view both vandwellers and homeless in the future.

(Web photo)

In the 1950 as a young boy I remember hearing of, and seeing Gypsies in town parked by Round Meadow Pond where a building used to be and before the interstate came through town. The Gypsy vehicles were different than the single residential cars that were in neighbors yards and was misterious to me as a child.

Related Smithsonian Article about Gypsies in our country.
http://smithsonianeducation.org/migrations/gyp/gypstart.html

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My memory of when the Gypsies were in town that mothers and fathers would advise each other and neighbors to keep an eye on your children.  There seemed to be common belief that Gypsies may steal children.  I don't know if it was just a ploy to scare children away from them vs how much they believed we were ripe for the sealing. I know of no such incident that would bring such caution, but it was a bias. A bias that carried with me and I sm sure others through the years.

A couple of different conversations that I had during my trip one suggested I may have a bias on homeless vandwellers.  It was felt that the perceived bias may play a role in how I view vandwelling I needed to search for understanding.

First I needed to ensure that what the definition of bias was.

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Wikipedia 

Bias is an inclination of temperament or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. People may be biased toward or against an individual, a race, a religion, a social class, a political party, or a species.[1]Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, not having an open mind. Bias can come in many forms and is often considered to be synonymous with prejudice or bigotry.[2]

Dictionary.com

A particular tendency, trend,inclination, feeling, or opinion,especially one that ispreconceived or unreasoned:illegal bias against older jobapplicants; the magazine’s biastoward art rather thanphotography;
our strong bias in favor of theidea.

The simple dictionary definitions didn't seem to fit the bias in my conversations.  The definition of bias that often blocks out all rational understanding of the other side or point of view seems way to strong or absolute.

The conversations I had were much more limited, seemed smaller and appeared to me to be nuances, and possibly caused by expressionism, common language differences, or our own sensitivities.

I searched the Internet and did find articles that point out in fact there are a biases that don't fit the absolute definitions above.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational


The human brain is capable of 1016processes per second, which makes it far more powerful than any computer currently in existence. But that doesn't mean our brains don't have major limitations. The lowly calculator can do math thousands of times better than we can, and our memories are often less than useless — plus, we're subject to cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. Here are a dozen of the most common and pernicious cognitive biases that you need to know about. 

Before we start, it's important to distinguish between cognitive biases and logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g. ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.). A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).

Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations. Still, they lead us to make grave mistakes. We may be prone to such errors in judgment, but at least we can be aware of them. Here are some important ones to keep in mind.

You can find the full article here.

http://io9.com/5974468/the-most-common-cognitive-biases-that-prevent-you-from-being-rational
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With this background out of the way, let's explore the specifics.  

I know am biased by the way I was brought up in the New England small town closed society as s child.  As a child my biases were formed my parents, aunts uncles, friends, and neighbors.  Children are sponges to absorb their surroundings don't they.  My biases as a child were not mine as a young adult and not the same now.  I and society moved down the road, so yes I can not help I have a bias about things.  I am sure others have walked the same road.

Today I believe that homeless are stigmatized and feel bad for those that are at no choice of their own.  I have experience with the homeless from being a Fire Chief.  I don't know why it has to be this way but living on the fringe of society by being homeless is stressful at so many levels and the attitude of the public doesn't help them.

As Fire Chief I met people that lived in their cars.  One such woman had 2 children and I worked with others in town to help get her services.  I saw people at their best and worse in the 46 years in the Fire Department and every year I mellowed more and more in my attitude to others.  I worked on being less jugemental and more compassionate.

On this years travels met this well educated, articulate, middle aged professional woman who is vandwelling and she calls herself homeless.  She lost her job, ran into financial issues and lost her apartment and moved into her car.

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Websters Dictionary

:having no home or permanent place of residence 
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She absolutely right in using the word homeless as her status, but I countered that there is a stigma associated with using the word homeless that carries more weight than the absolute definition of the word.  I went on to say that she shouldn't refer to herself as homeless, not because of the definition but to prevent propergating the stigma that society has developed.
We were with a man who is by choice a Vandweller full time and she had previously referred to him as homeless.  
He had taken exception that he wasn't homeless since he chose not to have s permanate address and a sticks and brick home, choosing to live in his Class B Campervan.
My bias was that I had a hard time with using the word homeless as our society first defaults to a stigma of homeless being dirty, that there is something wrong with them, and they may be dangerous.  Society does all this in general first before they would ever think of the pure definition of not having a permanate address.
This woman has already felt the stigma going through the drive up window of a fast food restaurant where the attendants can see the inside of her vehicle.
Heck, the service department at the Toyota dealership had to pull my bed apart to get to the spare tire to fix my flat when I hit the curb.
All my stuff was in plain view.  I didn't feel a stigma, but I could imagine the service tech assigned to fix my car calling others over to see.  I didn't care!
After this I have tried to educate people I meet about my choice to travel living in and out of my car.  I get a verity of reactions.
So I have searched my soul for some time and yes I have a bias that when someone sees what is perceived as homeless or heard of them, in the majority of the cases there is a negative connotation and I no longer think it is right or fair.
This woman believes that sleeping in the front seat of her car with her worldly possessions in the back with no curtains gives her greater motivation to get out of the situation than if she made herself more comfortable.
She explained that while she searches for a job every day while on unemployment in parking lots using her cell phone, she needs the uncomfortable car life to keep her going.
I commented to her that she comes across very enthusiastic and committed and may want to arrange her car to make it more comfortable since she seems so self motivated.  She said she needed the difficult conditions to remind her that she needs to be working to change her situation.  
I get her point and I have developed a respect for her way of dealing with her situation.  She is living it and I'm not.
I will drive on to other places and then home leaving her to deal with her homelessness situation. I've got it! I have a choice and she doesn't.
The problem as I see it is not us and the definition of homeless anyway, it is others that view vandwellers without a permanate address with the stigma (bias) first before they have walked in the other person's shoes.
The woman in my story "A" has been homeless since December and was on her own trying to figure the Vandwelling thing out all alone until she approached another Vandweller for help. The Vandweller she met does it by choice and they have become close friends. The Vandweller by choice gave me guidance to me last year when I met him, so I know this woman is in good company.
I have followed up with "A" and her un employment benefits run out in June and she has checked out a homeless shelter and her experience was not good.  After her unemployment runs out she is only elegible for $200 per month in food stamps.
Since I left the area where "A" is staying I have been hoping that her exuberance and outgoing personality will find her a job.  I just hope that it happens before her unemployment runs out.  The sooner the better.  Her transition back to a stick and brick addressed location is not easy with apartments that require first and last month's rent and security deposit.  The road back is long but I know she can do it.
If I leave you with one thing on this blog is that the next time you see or hear of a homeless person don't filter with the stigma first and see them as individuals that have fallen on difficult times and be thankful for what you have.
Brent
macaloney@hotmail.com







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