Welcome, Joan's Journeyers. I have a sad, but true, tale to tell. Recently, we've been exploring comfort zones with one's senior community and the surrounding geographic location—whether a new area or lifelong location.
My tale begins last week, as my car exited the underground parking lot of Holiday Villa East (HVE), my senior living community in urban Santa Monica, Calif. As I drove onto the alleyway, I noticed a head, neck and shoulders in the overflowing roadside dumpster. Convinced I was seeing an illusion in the sunshine, I stopped my car. Two frightened eyes stared directly at me. Then the head dove and disappeared into the commercial-sized dumpster.
Totally flustered, I was not sure what to do. Perhaps the person would suffocate. Maybe he or she was committing suicide. Was I safe driving past the dumpster? Should I call 911?
I drove out of the alleyway and parked on a nearby street. Then, I dialed 911. I told the operator what I witnessed and gave the location. As I continued with my day's activities, the strange, troubling experience bothered me. I decided that before I drove past the dumpster to return to the HVE garage, I would call our experienced, long-time senior residence director, Sam Rosenberg.
Sam listened and chuckled. "You have just seen dumpster diving. Dumpster diving is very common in Santa Monica."
Dumpster Diving 101
"Excuse me," I replied. "What is dumpster diving?"
Sam explained that many poor and homeless folks live in Santa Monica. The mild climate and liberal politics attract down-on-their-luck folks. Dumpster diving—for discarded food, electronic devices, empty soda cans and whatever else of value the dumpster may hold—Is a common practice throughout Santa Monica.
Totally surprised, I answered, "Did you know that dumpster divers frequent the dumpsters outside our building?"
Sam admitted that he and others in the building know and look the other way, much like vendors allow homeless people in Santa Monica to beg outside their stores, and police allow people to sleep on the nearby beaches.
"Woo," I thought. "How safe is this?" I said.
Sam commented that as far as he knew, to date, no problems have occurred due to dumpster divers in the alleyway behind our senior residence. To give me peace of mind, Sam spoke with Santa Monica police, who are responsible for alleyway traffic. Since that first incident, I have not seen dumpster divers or frightened eyes.
A Valuable Lesson Learned
Journeyers, let's analyze what happened. For many residents, dumpster divers have been an accepted part of the Santa Monica community since long before I arrived. For me, the dumpster diver experience was totally new and frightening—far outside my comfort zone. Still, do I have the right to thrust my sheltered life experiences and comfort zone on others?
My conclusion is that safety comes first. As long as my personal safety and others are not threatened, then I will follow the “look the other way” lead of the Santa Monica police, store vendors and Sam, our HVE director. The commonplace expression, "One man's treasure may be another man's rubbish," comes to mind. The saying originated about 1860, by English writer Hector Urquhart in his introduction to "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," a four-volume series of fairy tales by John Frances Campbell.
As we enter the 2014 holiday season, many of us have much to be grateful for, but some of us do not—their treasures may be few. Perhaps learning about dumpster divers is a good wake-up call to the treasures and rubbish in our lives. As I move along Joan's Journey, the dumpster diver taught me not to fear dumpster diving, not to judge dumpster diving, but to help others in any way I can—which at times may mean looking the other way.
What are your thoughts about dumpster divers? SeniorHomes.com and I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences. Most importantly, while exploring senior living, ask questions. Learn about the senior community and its surroundings before you make a choice of senior living.
As the holidays approach, Joan's Journey will highlight the many organizations and entities that connect with senior living and enrich lives. Until our next blog in mid-December, enjoy the journey, day-by-day.
Joan London, a former Houston Chronicle correspondent and noted magazine writer/editor, specializes in freelance writing/editing of issues relating to seniors. London moved to a senior community in Southern California, where she has enhanced her quality of life and is close to her children and grandchildren.