I've always thought that seasonable, year-round weather mixed with a 'de-institutionalization' of the mentally ill throughout California in the 1970s helped to bring about the chronic problem with indigency we seem to have in my home state. What's that old adage? If you're not part of the solution...?
|Der Pfarrer Sieber|
I recently got a gig volunteering at the Sozialwerke Pfarrer Sieber. Pfarrer Sieber has been engaged in taking care of the homeless and drug-addicted population here in Zurich since the 1950s. Every Swiss person whom I've talked to seems to know of his work.
'You're moving to Zurich? It's so pristine and clean and filled with wealth!'
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that sort of thing before moving to Zurich, then I would donate it to the SWS. There is poverty here. There are people living with addiction and mental health issues. I spoke with another volunteer, K., who is from the area and not rolling in cash herself who told me, 'The problem is that no one here wants to talk about poverty. It exists, but we pretend it doesn't.'
My once weekly engagement has me doling out clothes in a 'boutique', as we refer to it, to people in need. They come as singles, pairs, or families. Each person is allowed to take five articles of clothing per visit. The donated clothes, in general, are of good quality, and, mostly, seasonal. I and the other volunteer who works with me tend to try to make the experience for the clients much like that of visiting a proper clothing store. We ask if they need help finding things, we show them items that might be flattering for them to wear, and we give feed back on clothes they try on.
T., a woman who looked most at home wearing as little as possible, rejected one of my clothing suggestions because it was 'too conservative'. If I recall, it was a dress that covered the knees. A young man with slicked back hair wearing wingtips found a pair of replacement braces for his trousers, and a picked up a lovely, leather suitcase, too. The creme de la creme was the man with his corduroy trousers falling off coming in for a shop with his German Shepherd. The dog came in and promptly sat down, putting its head on its paws. The man, one hand on the waistband of his torn trousers, needed a new pair. As his willie was out for all to see, I would have said that he needed a pair of underpants to too, but I kept quiet. Then all of the female volunteers went outside to wait while a male volunteer assisted him in finding a suitable, new pair of trousers.
In addition to folk picking up clothes at the shop, people drop off clothing donations there, too. A few weeks ago we received a 'bumper crop' of clothes. Two women brought in two suitcases each filled with adult clothes and bed linens. An older woman brought in four suitcases and two large bags worth of her recently deceased mother's wardrobe. There was a couple who pulled up in their car, got out, and then weren't sure where to go to find us. I could hear the man asking in the dry-cleaners next door where 'der Pfarrer Sieber' was. I popped up out of my chair to greet him at the front. When he found out that we were right next door he turned to the dry-cleaner and said something like, 'Why didn't you tell me it was right next door?!' His irritation quickly subsided as he and his wife were helped with their donations inside. I asked him if he'd like to leave his details, so that Father Sieber may send him a 'thank-you' note. He gladly did so while telling me that he'd already received a letter from him once for donating in the past.
|Schöne Stadt Zuerich|
I would add that all of the above people are native to this area. I wonder if K. really meant that the issues of mental illness, addiction and poverty aren't supported by enough legislation when she said that Zürchers pretend the problems don't exist. I would say that a foreigner's perception of Zurich may be that it's all luxury items and tidy streets. We see what we both want and hope to see. Could a native's vision be similar?
|The San Francisco treat!|
Of course, like any place once visited for any length of time, the reality of it is something a little more like willies-hanging-out-of-trousers real. -beyond the image of Rice-a-Roni and cable cars.