Thanksgiving Food Drives: Feed the Multitudes (Unless It's Illegal)
Good for your pastor!  We need more like him. When my son was growing up I told him never to refuse to give money to anyone who asked. Even if it was his last dollar. Especially, if it was his last dollar. He would probably always have another one on the horizon, but he didn't know how the lack of a buck might impact another soul. I was humbled years later when I heard him make reference to this during his Eagle Scout ceremony.

A few years ago there was an article in our local newspaper. Apparently some of the business people were upset because homeless individuals were sleeping in their doorways and sometimes urinating there.  One of the primary people quoted was a woman who was a former City Council member and a current trustee of our old parish. This just annoyed me no end. I wrote a letter to the editor that really didn't make me any new friends. But I did get a lot of "you've got guts, girl ... you're right" from fellow parishioners.

Here's the text of it ... with identifying details removed, of course!

Shameful Blight on the Sparkling Sands of the City by the Sea
Homeless Need Help Not Harassment

"Happytown USA. The City by the Sea. In its 100-year history, the seaside community weathered many, often tumultuous challenges on its path to well-deserved pride in the robust downtown economy, now fueled by young condo-dwelling professionals who flock to its sparkling sandy shores.Happytown is a great place to live. If you have a place to live.

Today I am ashamed to be a citizen of Happytown.

In big, bold type, the headline glared, without a trace of remorse: “Stores Want Homeless Gone.”  I continued to read the callous words that came from the mouths of people I knew and admired.  With a growing sense of dismay, an appalling realization crystallized. Happytown is now a community so enamored with "revitalization" and "smart growth" that now it publicly views the most powerless among us as human trash, to be swept away with the detritus of the night before, out of sight, out of mind.

While business owners and the current administration bask in the glory of increased cash flow, a by-product of the gentrification of our City, there is another segment of the population that suffers: those who have been marginalized by elimination of affordable apartments in older homes and the closing of several institutional settings that once housed the most vulnerable.

Yes, it is distressing when people use doorways as urinals, but I think we need to ask ourselves a few questions.  Does anyone honestly believe that any human being, given the choice, would actually prefer defecating in a doorway to enjoying the privacy of a toilet?  Has it occurred to anyone that these human beings are using your doorways because there is nowhere else for them to go?  They drink alcohol in public? Perhaps if you had to urinate in public, you might turn to drink as well, if only to numb the shame and indignity of the situation.  Alcoholism is a disease and it is probably just one of the many trials faced by these individuals. Our city boasts three not-for-profit agencies charged with the mission of addressing this disorder.  You’re all aware of them. I’ve seen each of you at the black tie dinner dances that add to their coffers.

Ms. M is offended by people “begging and hanging out all day.” As a financial advisor, she should know that people must get their money from somewhere.  I must believe that nearly everyone would prefer the dignity of work to the indignity of being forced to beg for spare change.

Mr. C, the restaurateur, doesn't like them "congregating." When people with money linger in the street it is called socializing. But if you're poor and powerless, you're congregating. "Keep them moving," he says. To where, Mr. C? Perhaps in your distress you haven't contemplated the basic notion that people need a place to be. They cannot evaporate out of sight. Fortunately for you, the city administration agrees with your position. That is why there is no public seating in Kennedy Plaza or anywhere else that might foster a sense of community among the disenfranchised.

The concept that we should criminalize homelessness is simply appalling. It is also a violation of the civil rights of those who do not enjoy the luxury of a permanent address. Most appalling, however, is City Manager T's comment, which sadly reinforces the official position of the administration: the neediness of others "cheapens your whole existence." Mr. T has forgotten that these people are his constituents too.  He has forgotten that he is morally obligated to come to their assistance, even if they aren't as pleasant-smelling and polished as the men in suits who visit his office with enticing deals to develop condominiums and hotels.

I won’t ask whether any of the business owners has taken the time to speak with these people to learn what series of misfortunes brought them to this juncture. nor whether they’ve come together to find creative ways to assist them. But I will ask whether anyone in the City administration has met with the Department of Social Services, The Coalition for the Homeless, or the three social service agencies that exist in Happytown to address the problem. Has the administration considered utilizing the talents of our well paid grant writers to seek humane solutions to the issue? 

An enormous amount of time and money has been directed to addressing the needs of feral cats. Don't human beings deserve so much more?

Sometimes the excitement of success can cloud our vision.  I personally know each member of the City Administration and count many of the business owners as friends.  I know that each possesses a spirit of great generosity and a well-spring of kindness within. You’ve supported more charities with your time and talent and I can number.  Certainly it is disturbing to be confronted by harsh and dreadful realities of the benefactors of your charitable contributions. Their lives are not tidy and their personas can be terribly frightening and even disgusting. For that simple reason each of us needs to put the brakes on reactionary responses. We need to contemplate the urgency of human suffering that is quite literally on our doorstep. We can all do better than responding with a “move it along” mentality. We need to recognize that the disgrace of homelessness in the midst of affluence is, at least in part, of our own making.  The price tag for our success is not counted solely in our ledger books, but also in the blistered feet and empty eyes of those our success has displaced. 

Collectively we can do better. We can reclaim our own humanity by embracing the humanity of the powerless. And then we can all, once again, be proud to be citizens of the City by the Sea.

***** OK. I'm done pontificating for the night, LOL


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Re: Thanksgiving Food Drives: Feed the Multitudes (Unless It's Illegal) - by Catholichome - 11-02-2009, 09:34 PM

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