Essays From A Dysfunctional Life

Murmurings about life as it is and as it can be.

Their Blood is on Our Hands

“The bloodshed 30 miles south of Houston is the worst mass shooting in America since February, when 17 people were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, according to a database of shootings maintained by the Washington Post.” (MSNBC 5/18/2018)

Since February.

I am angry. I am angry that there has been another school shooting. I am angry that we can no longer track school shootings by how many years ago the last one occured. We now must track school shootings in days.

It has been 11 days since the school shooting at Highland High School in Palmdale, California. Just 21 days prior to Highland, students were fired on by a fellow student as they engaged in a walkout demonstration against gun violence.

Today, more children are dead and there has been no significant changes in gun legislation.

“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement: ‘The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Santa Fe and those affected by today’s tragic shooting.’”

More thoughts and prayers, but little action to eliminate access to military style weapons. A-15s are still getting into the hands of school shooters. And more children continue to be murdered.

As of today, with the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, there have been 16 school shootings.

Recently I picked up a copy of the book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. (K. Newman) It is a difficult read, but sheds light on issues related to mass shooting. According to Newman, school shooters have a number of issues in common:

  • Undiagnosed Mental Illness – Many school shooters have undiagnosed depression or schizophrenia at the time of the shooting.
  • Planning – School shootings do not tend to be random in nature. They are often planned weeks or months prior to the shooting. Often peers or family members are aware of some part of the plan, but may not connect it to a mass shooting event.
  • Family Dysfunction – While school shooters have come from a wide range of socioeconomic statuses, they often experience a high incidence of family problems including divorce, abuse, unstable housing, and low parental involvement.
  • Bullying – Many school shooters are on both the receiving and giving end of bullying, resulting in difficult peer relationships.
  • Access to Guns – Youth continue to have access to guns through family, friends, and blackmarket gun sales.

There are no simple fixes to end mass shootings, but I believe that we can prioritize our actions and make a significant difference:

Get serious about gun control.

  1. School shootings do not occur when guns are not available to children, by removing automatic and semi-automatic weapons from non-military personnel and by requiring routine gun safety education for all gun owners.
  2. Implement routine mental health screenings.
  3. Support students and family members in obtaining access to mental health services to improve early identification and treatment of mental health disorders.
  4. Improve family supports. Increase availability of affordable housing, parenting classes and support groups, and domestic violence supports.
  5. Treat bullying systemically. Bullying is rarely an individual problem in a school and is often one symptom in a dysfunctional system. Bullying campaigns that reach across all ages, genders, racial groups and support healthy relationship development within the school can help reduce the number of angry, marginalized students.

It is time to make the commitment to no more school shootings. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. No more children need to die because we lack the courage to insist on making real change to protect our children.

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Homelessness: A Recreational Activity?

A homeless camp has grown in the parking structure near my office. There is garbage and tents and shopping carts filled with the meager personal belongings of those who have made their home in the parking garage.

There is a war on homelessness in this country, and in this small Oregon town. Homelessness makes those with homes feel uncomfortable. They are labeled as “dirty,” “smelly,” “dangerous,” “druggies,” and “crazy.”

There may be some kernel of truth in these statements. It can be difficult to take care of basic hygiene and to wear clean clothes when you don’t have regular access to bathroom or laundry facilities. Many people who experience mental illness can end up on the streets after losing housing due to unpredictable behavior or extended stays in psychiatric hospitals. Too many who are unhoused self-medicate to manage mental illness, physical, and emotional pain.

Recently, our City Council President was quoted as saying: “It’s there for business purposes, not to be a recreational area.” in response to concerns regarding the homeless camping in the parking garage. Recreational area? I don’t believe that a homeless camp constitutes recreational activity.

As a community member, I often choose not to park in the structure due to potential safety concerns in the evening. And, I agree that the parking structure is not designed for use as housing. People should not have to sleep on the pavement in a parking structure to avoid the rain in the winter and the heat in the summer. But seeking shelter away from the elements does not constitute “recreation.” It is reprehensible for anyone to equate obtaining shelter with a weekend fishing trip.

The homeless in our community have already been banned from the downtown area, pushed out of churches by neighbors who say “not in my neighborhood,” and expelled from local parks for vagrancy. So what is left? Those with cars or campers, park on city and neighborhood streets inciting rage and those who don’t have the luxury of a vehicle, camp in wooded lots and city parking structures.

Not everyone wants to be housed, but for those who do there is limited affordable housing in our community. Between local college students who fill available units most of the year and the hospitality industry which is voraciously consuming housing and creating vacation rentals, housing becomes more and more limited each year.

The solution to homelessness is complicated. It is more than just finding a home. The solution includes providing access to health care services including physical and mental health. It includes employment support. For some it includes drug and alcohol treatment. And, it includes giving people a hand.

Lifting up instead of pushing away.

Healing rather than rejection.

Offering compassion.

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Celebrating Mothers with a Big “M” and a Little “m”

Happy Mother’s Day…

Seeking Greener Pastures

Mother’s Day honors the mothers who cared for us and nurtured us as we grew.

Many celebrate with the mother they call Mom. This is the big “M” mom. The one who kissed wounds and gave hugs; the one who dried our tears and encouraged us.

But today we also celebrate the little “m” moms. These are the women who were likely not there for our births. They walked alongside us, often not even realizing the gifts of mothering they gave us. They are neighbors, teachers, aunts, coaches, counselors, and more. Like Mom, these moms tended and encouraged us.

So today, I give thanks for the Mom who loved me but left this life too soon. And I thank all the moms who bridged the gap.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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