Step Up Communities

I am going through some challenging times which, I believe, God intends to use to grow me and direct me to how I may help others. Coming out of an abusive marriage, with children, and needing help on every level, while having no one in the world to whom I can turn, I have been forced to access government programs. While these meet some, though not all, of the basic physical needs, they are woefully lacking in what I and others like me really need, which is community, a safe place for ourselves and our children to heal, and, most importantly, a way to rebuild our lives and rediscover our value in this world.

Charity only addresses some of the physical needs. In my current area, where I am forced by the terms of my divorce to stay, low-income housing is lacking and many live on the streets or in the woods, eating out of dumpsters since, without an address, other government aid, which is difficult to initially access anyway, becomes even more inaccessible. At times there are shelters, which fill up fast, but they are for one night only unless you are lucky enough to make the cut the next night, and the next. When you don’t make the cut, where can you and your children go? Taking charity is not only often inadequate to address even the basic, physical needs, but is also humiliating and, without the needed emotional/spiritual/intellectual/physical support, can be an endless, crushing trap. Lack of money is only a symptom of a person’s real needs, which government charity and donations of money fail to address.

I believe everyone is made by God with a vital mission to accomplish in this world and special, unique talents to use to accomplish it. We all have infinite, if different, potential. We all have value and the need to have that value recognized by others. We need to love and be loved. Humans are communal beings. We need community.

My vision, therefore, is to create “Step-Up” communities. These will be communities where people who are homeless, destitute, escaping domestic abuse, broken by the cruelty of others, suffering from various traumas, etc., can be safe, heal, learn, rebuild, and create for themselves the best, possible version of their new lives. I envision a place where individuals and families have their own apartments and houses within walking distance of all the necessary services, their jobs, their schools (all levels and various kinds), exercise, sport, and entertainment opportunities, etc. They would be safe, comfortable and allowed to stay as long as they wish as long as they met the community’s requirements, which include working a job (something would be provided that they can do, if necessary, for which they would get paid, or else they can find their own), attend regular counseling with a trained counselor (if everyone must do this, there would not be any stigma attached to anyone), and provide regular acts of service for at least one other person within the community. This would apply not only to adults, but also to children older than five, with age-appropriate activities.

Requiring acts of service to others, which may be as simple as visiting someone or bringing someone his mail daily, not only encourages people to meet and interact with others, but also, hopefully, encourages positive relationships between people and a sense of personal value to someone else. Even the smallest acts can have massive benefits to everyone involved, but especially to people who are coming from situations where they have been isolated or marginalized and who may have forgotten or never learned how to interact well with others. Also, a capitalist system functions by people constantly looking for better ways to serve others or to meet other’s needs, so getting people in the habit of thinking constantly about what they can do or provide for others is the beginning of entrepreneurship.

I picture a community fringed with thriving businesses, stores, services, and entertainments, not only serving the residents but also the community at large. We would build attractive, fun places to shop and visit, while allowing lower rents to these businesses and subsidizing, as necessary, when these businesses employ people from the community – especially the older residents and those physically or otherwise limited.

One of the main difficulties in escaping abusive situations is that the abusers usually, eventually, isolate their victims, undermine their self-esteem and confidence, and take control of all finances, trapping them by rendering them dependent on the abuser. Victims end up deeply impoverished, lacking any good references, and often having crippling gaps in their work experience (especially stay-at-home parents). In addition, they are often physically neglected or abused enough to have physical difficulties that inhibit gainful employment. Many have no financial support from anyone at all and cannot even scrabble together a wardrobe suitable for working in an office or store. Many need a lot of healing, often from life-threatening conditions, while others only need a chance to get back to work and prove themselves useful, but competing in the “real” world, against confident, healthy people who have been working non-stop and constantly networking, is truly difficult. Everyone needs a sense of purpose and value in the world, however, and being gainfully employed is a good place to begin to build that.

In my vision of a Step-Up community, the community as a whole is in partnership with many, varied, thriving businesses. The businesses gain by lowered costs and increased help with advertising and attracting customers/clients, etc., while the residents benefit from access to use those services and products provided as well as employment opportunities within and for them. The residents will, hopefully, be given priority over the general public in being hired where they have the aptitude. I also want to establish apprenticeship programs so residents with special skills or aptitudes can more deeply explore those and see if they want to go on to gain whatever further training or accreditation in those areas may be necessary. Strong encouragement will be given to the employers who elevate their employees from within, so those who prove capable and want to study or improve, as necessary, can have the opportunity to turn their jobs into careers.

Retirement for residents will not be forced. Those for whom physical or mental decline requires lessening responsibilities, will be offered positions they can perform well, ideally as mentors, as long as they are capable. Those who have the means to give up work altogether, permanently, and who can work but choose not to, will be encouraged to serve in voluntary positions or else to leave the community they no longer choose to serve. However, if one merely chooses to give up a career to explore something new, that will be accepted and, if the plan is realistic, honored. Their new avenue may even be subsidized if their new venture is judged to have sufficient growth potential. I heard a statistic that many people die within five years of retirement, even though they are healthy when they retire. I suspect that is, at least in part, because life looses its sense of purpose. I believe people need to feel that they are of value to others – ideally sufficient value that others will happily pay them for their efforts. When you take yourself, or are forced, completely out of the activity wherein you mostly proved your value to the world, if you do not quickly create another way to be of value, you begin to feel as if you have no reason to live, and so begin to die. As long as you are alive on this earth, there is a God-given reason to be here. There is something you have still to offer or to learn – and most likely both. We just have to find it. People in this community should keep living and growing until they die.

The Step-Up communities will be strongly supportive of the businesses, services, etc. within them, in terms of promoting them as much as possible, and residents will hopefully learn advertising, promoting, and sales skills – all kinds – which they can someday apply to their own businesses, if they desire. We may host fairs and festivals and other special events to draw crowds and make our communities “destinations” for shoppers and tourists and others willing and able to pay. Also, such events teach organizing, security, and other skills that are applicable in other ways and are, simply, fun. Joy is a necessary part of all healing and safe, clean opportunities for the residents to enjoy themselves must be encouraged. Hosting fairs, festivals, and special events also add to this.

My hope is that the businesses and services associated with our Step-Up communities end up so prosperous that they may, eventually, be able not only to help fund the community, making the Step-Up communities self-sufficient, but potentially even allow the communities to create profit while still supporting those in need. Also, if the original businesses and services prosper enough, more business and services will want to join, allowing Step-Up communities to grow and spread.

I want these to be communities for people who come, in need, but don’t stay in need for long. I want to minimize government support as much as possible, because the government services demand you constantly prove your need for help, which forces people to prove their failures, losses, and impoverishment as they humble themselves to beg, at regular intervals, from the government. How can anyone avoid feeling like the failure he just described himself to be? Proving that you cannot survive without depending on charity undermines the entire mind-set I want to encourage. It makes a person feel as if they have no value at all, every few months when they have to reapply for aid. It is soul-destroying to have to keep begging charity from uncaring, impersonal entities who demand constant proof of your failure. Government programs also tend to reward failure and punish success by withdrawing still necessary support when the person starts to rise. It is discouraging, to say the least. Instead, I want the attitude of the Step-Up communities to be the opposite. I want the focus to be on what people CAN do and all the value they truly have to offer – with the understanding that we all have unlimited potential once we tap into our special, God-given gifts and abilities.

The point of the Step-Up communities is to honor and respect people who are rising again from difficult circumstances – something that is truly worthy of admiration. The focus is on encouraging growth and exploration of their potential. We’re not going to give people a job of our choosing and force them to keep working it or else cut them off from help. Rather, we’re going to insist they must work, and provide work they can do if they need, but allow them to change jobs, try different ones, fail (as long as they are willing to keep trying), and hopefully find what they are good at and enjoy doing. If they have an idea to start a business or service, they can apply for funding and work with mentors – those who have already succeeded in similar enterprises – to set it up and run it. Also, we’re not going to kick them out as soon as they start succeeding. Step-Up communities are not for “losers” but, rather, for people on the rise.

Step-Up communities will offer a stable, safe, comfortable home, replete with opportunities, from which the law-abiding residents will move on when THEY choose. Hopefully they will make friends within the community and get used to helping each other, regularly. We’re not going to break up those positive relationships. People can stay as long as they want. There is absolutely no financial cut-off since that could lead to the negative side-effect of discouraging people from “too much” success so that they can stay where they are happy. The concept of “too much success” must not be acknowledged as valid in any way. Someone who is embraced by this community when they had nothing but need, who then rises to fortune, fame, or whatever other goal they worked to achieve, is still embraced, still encouraged, still loved, and still helped by continuing friends and the community at large in any areas where there may still be need. They can maintain their “safety net” as long as they want, since no ascent is ever direct and easy. There will always be setbacks. Also, though the outward signs of success, such as finances, may improve, the struggles of people overcoming deep trauma may persist and still need to be addressed. The support offered from Step-Up communities is life-long and always available to the ever-changing individual, not just to “paupers.”

There will be better accommodations, fancier services, and various luxuries and entertainments to which the newcomers can aspire – ideally businesses that serve the larger community and employ those in the Step-Up communities. These are job/career/training opportunities for people in the community, but also serve as incentives for those rising within the community, rewards for those who have found their talents, and also encouragement, for those who have learned how to succeed, to stay to help guide others. Theoretically, those who do well enough can eventually live in mansions within the community, employing other residents not only in their businesses, but in the services mansions require, such as gardeners, housekeepers, chefs, repair people, etc. The only limitation, really, is that everyone in the community is paying rent or leasing. When people are ready to buy their own place, as, I am sure, many will want to do, it will have to be outside the community, though they may still work and function within it, as they please.

An important principle for achieving success, however any individual may define that, is to surround yourself by those who have already achieved that to which you aspire. Everyone needs inspiration, models, mentors, and guides to help him. Ideally, these people are not only found as teachers and employers, but also as friends and neighbors. The whole concept of homeless shelters and low cost housing areas, while great for temporary help in dire cases, is flawed in that they group those in need together with others similarly in need, and generally isolate them from those who have prospered. Those in need are better served being surrounded by those who have learned the principles required for prosperity, which extend beyond job skills. The Step-Up communities must aspire to include people who are living these principles daily in their lives. We will have the business owners and entrepreneurs, of course, and teachers, but, as much as possible, we want people living and thriving within these communities, especially those who rose from within the communities, to stay as long as they want. Even just being around people who are living with healthy attitudes that naturally lead to prosperity strengthens and encourages those who may not have been exposed to such attitudes before, much less had any chance to watch them work.

There will be strong social pressure to treat each other with respect and kindness. I assume there may be law-breakers and toxic, hateful people who might have to be kicked out, for the well-being of the community, but hopefully they will be few and far between and their innocent family members will be allowed the option to stay. Ideally, many of these people may choose to leave of their own accord, finding themselves ill-fit with the Step-Up communities. We will function in accordance with the law, of course, and there will be enforcement of any community laws that may need to be established, adopted and voted on by the individual communities. There will also be arbitration available as necessary. I understand conflicts will happen because humans are humans, but we will do the best we can along the principle that each individual’s rights end where another individual’s equal rights begin.

I have an image in my mind of apartments built above the stores, shops, clinics, and businesses where people work. There can be places designed with “old world” charm, looking like villages from history, which may delight visitors and residents alike. There could also be “mall” like structures where shoppers and visitors enter into huge, enclosed, climate-controlled areas full of shops and services with entertainment and gathering places in the center and apartments above, overlooking it all. There will be schools and childcare facilities included in these structures so parents who are working there can reach their children quickly, if needed, or could visit on mutual breaks to share a meal or help with homework or play together in the interior pools, parks, play-areas, etc. People who keep pets, or enjoy gardening, or for whatever reason, may take advantage of town-houses with small yards or homes deeper within the community, but still within walking distance to their jobs, schools, services, shops, etc. Hopefully, there will also be areas for farming, ranching, and other more rural employments as well as warehouses and manufacturing areas. I want the residents to have as many varied opportunities as they might need to find their personal niches, and what is produced at such places is usually important. If Step-Up communities can become self-sustaining, all the better.

On the perimeter there will be most of the restaurants, the cinemas, the theaters and concert halls, the museums, the medical clinics, the spas, the hotels, the work-out areas, the sporting arenas, the grocery and other stores, the schools, religious meeting places, showrooms, banks, etc., that serve the larger community as well as the Step-Up communities. The deeper one goes into the community, however, the more protected it becomes, with parks, play and sport areas and pools, businesses and services only accessed by the residents and their authorized guests. It is common for those who have been abused to be stalked and constantly threatened by their abusers, even after they have escaped. One cannot begin to heal when one feels unsafe. Though all the areas of the community will be patrolled, areas where anyone can enter to shop or do business cannot be fully secured, so there will be interior areas that can and will be. Residents who need this level of security will be able to have it for as long as they need it. Whether this means having personal guards escort them where they need to go, or giving them the option of limiting their movements to within the safe zone and still meeting all their needs, we’ll make sure they are safe, whatever it takes.

I envision these communities set up so that they don’t need transportation to access any service or shop. Personal cars can be very difficult and expensive to maintain. If the communities grow large enough, they might provide public transportation within them and we would work to link to whatever public transportation is available in and beyond the exterior communities. However, it is obvious that people might enjoy traveling, exploring, visiting people, working or attending schools beyond the Step-Up community on their own, so many residents may choose to have their own vehicles. There are also many reasons why trucks or other vehicles may be needed to go directly to the homes, and higher-end homes may have their own garages as a perk. There will be roads throughout the community, as well as bicycle paths, walking, jogging, and riding trails, but most of the long-term parking will be on the perimeter, with handicap parking next to handicap accessible homes and shuttles available when/if needed to get people and their items from the parking to their homes.

There are still a lot of details to work out, and many will change to adapt to the individual needs of each Step-Up community, but this is the general idea. For healing to even begin, people must be given space away from those who harm them, someplace clean, safe, and secure where they can stay as long as they need. They need to have access to good doctors and therapists, for individuals and families. They need to be encouraged to break the isolation to which they may have, sadly, become accustomed, relearning and building social skills. They need to have the opportunity to make true friends. They need to establish their personal value not only to themselves, but also to other individuals and the world at large, through work and service opportunities at which they can succeed, despite whatever illnesses or handicaps they have yet to overcome. Though they may need to be heavily subsidized at first, they need their own income immediately, derived from their own efforts, part of which goes to their rent, food, utilities, etc. (subsidized as necessary), but the rest that they are free to use as they choose. They need to be surrounded by people who are succeeding and rising in the world who can inspire them and who will, hopefully, be happy to help them learn and do what they need to follow the similar paths. Most importantly, I hope these Step-Up communities will be a place to encourage mutual respect, caring, encouragement, and love, based on positive principles and attitudes. I hope these principles and attitudes along with a strongly supportive community, will be strong enough to build up people who have spent years, perhaps even their whole life, being beaten down.