What does who you drink coffee with say about you?

As I sit in the 12 South community drinking my Appley Ever After seasonal blend, I wonder why would someone wait in line 30 minutes for a coffee in a crowded setting?  The answer is exactly.  It is exactly the crowd that you are joining.  The Frothy Monkey is a college, hip, and spikey crowd.  It is the friendly people in line.  The cool products.  The great coffee.  It is the community that one wants to be a part.  It is the socio-cultural community of cool.

We are a social people.  We are known by who we are known by.  Life is a story of self.  A story of us.  A story of where we fit in with the others.  A story of now and our hopes for tomorrow.  We are defined and defining by our socio-cultural community.

Our work at The Salvation Army is most often with the socio-cultural stranger, the “socio estranged.”  “Strangers,” says Walter Brueggemann, “are people without a place.” They are “displaced persons” because of the “social system … has … assigned their place to another and so denied them any safe place of their own.” Because the social system, the socio-cultural community, has assigned another place.  Thus I challenge us to refer to the stranger who is homeless as the socio-estranged.

The homeless on the street, the inadequately housed, the well-housed homeless, the immigrant, the refugee, the exile, the migrant, the tourist, the postmodern nomad – these are different ways of being and feeling displaced, alternative forms of homelessness.  Each group may create a counter-cultural community in which to be known an thus not estranged.

The Tennessean on Sunday, October 29,  recognized the differentiation of culture and counter-culture amongst the “homeless” community in a manner that clearly differentiates the socio-culture community that individuals have a choice.

The best solution to eliminating homelessness is easier said than done, said Judith Tackett, director of the Metro Nashville Homelessness Commission.

“What ends homelessness?” Tackett asked rhetorically. “Housing.”

“That’s very simple, but it’s difficult to do,” she added. “You cannot sustain housing without an income. You cannot sustain housing without some kind of communityaround them. With chronic homelessness, you see the community has broken down around them.”

Although I agree a home is the best solution to homelessness, I also recognize that a home is defined by more than the location of one’s roof or shelter.  I contend that our home is found in our community and that sometimes choosing a community without a stable shelter is preferable and rationale.  This sentiment is more clearly shared in that same article:

 Howard Allen, 56, co-founder of the Nashville Homeless Underground, describes himself as “houseless” for the last 15 years. He has been an advocate for the homeless community and a critic of the system.

“That’s one thing about being houseless: People want to control you, they think you’re ignorant, you’re stupid, you’re beyond repair,” he said. “We have our own community.”

Howard Allen, an advocate recognizes this counter-cultural community and so should we. Many of the elements of “home” or “homeless” are found in a community.  (I will address this in a follow-up.) If we want to invite in those estranged to this place of community, then we must recognize their choices and that they are at home in their community.  These are the choices of individual agency that each one of us makes every day.

Once we recognize that Quality of Life is a function of Choice, we can create community models that invite those estranged to the respected counter-culture to integrate into one of the many housing cultures within Nashville.


Anyway, I am thankful I could choose where to drink my coffee this morning and the Appley Ever After is lovely.  What to drink, who to drink it with and without.  Shouldn’t we recognize this simple of morning coffee with others?  After all, it is with whom we drink coffee that we are more fully known.

Review the Draft of Quality of Life By Choice.

Misty Ratcliff