Street Code of Friendship: a Paradox

Posted: May 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

We once knew a man who was sleeping in an encampment in the woods. One day, it was discovered that he had been beat up pretty badly by a good friend of his who also resided in the woods. He was taken to the hospital and was eventually released. His physical elements didn’t hurt him as much as the psychological and emotional pain he felt . However it was not for having been beaten up by someone he considered a friend, but rather, the guilt he felt for saying such terrible things about the friend who had just assaulted him. He went on to be concerned about his friends Health and who would take care of him if they weren’t friends. While the story may sound unique, I can assure you that I can think of at least a dozen other cases where two street friends have a disagreement that turned violent only to declare their friendship as strong as ever in the days that followed. I call it the Street Code of Friendship. It’s unlike any type of friendship structure I have witnessed but the bond seems incredibly strong. This represents for me somewhat of a paradox in which I find myself teaching my own students that many relationships formed on the street are superficial in nature. Friendships in which, when push comes to shove, are often abandoned by temptation, housing, whim, and addiction. But, as I reflect back on that statement, I am left wondering about the origins of such taless I have just told. I think about a pearl of wisdom I received from Dr. Withers (again, I know) when he mentioned that communities who feel that feeding the homeless encourages them to remain homeless is like asking you to think of the best sandwich you’ve ever eaten in your entire life and then choosing to be homeless so that you could continue eating that sandwich rather than be housed and not have the sandwich. For me, it’s not a sandwich but my Grandma Stella’s pot roast. The most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten however I would not give up my house and just so that I can have her pot roast every day. It makes me wonder, what acquaintance do I have or even friend in which I would allow them to physical hurt me and then retain my friendship with them. Or further, we have had cases where one rough sleeper refused housing out of worry about what would happen to the person they share their encampment, their bench or their doorway with. I think about the stress and the trauma of living on the street. Perhaps if you find that one person who understands and who seems to have your back on most occasions, that sense of abandonment that you’ve experienced in your life starts to dissipate in a very small but very real way. Perhaps it’s like when you go away to camp for a week when you are a kid. You are away from home as a child, you’re scared and if you’re me you’re terrified of spiders crawling on your face and in your nose and mouth as your sister promised would happen (thanks Becky for those sweet dreams). The people you meet at camp or strangers to you on the first day but by day seven you are blood brothers and sisters. The bond speaks to the human nature of wanting to be protected and protective. In someway the street cultivates this amongst individuals. Perhaps the lesson for us housed people to learn is one of forgiveness. I am not condoning violence of course by maybe the lesson is one of understanding that impulses are often acted upon carelessly and harmfully but that at the end of the day the impulse represented one second of the emotion that is not able to erase days, months or years of survival on the street.



  1. Christina Schwab says:

    I used to be homeless in Easton PA. That friendship you talk about is more than that. We become family. Feel free to ask me anything


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