A Letter from Bryan Gillooly on General Assistance


Dear Homeless Grapevine:

            I believe there is a grave trend to dispose of entire groups of poor people that are developing into policy in Ohio state and national public assistance programs.  The trend is to put welfare recipients back to work.  In order to accomplish this, politicians categorize inconceivable numbers of U.S. citizens.  Those who can work may get help; those who can’t work won’t get anything.

            In our own home state, Ohio’s very popular Governor, George Voinovich, recently instituted the end to General Assistance, the public relief program for single and able people temporarily out of work and ineligible for unemployment benefits.  The national welfare debate identifies teen-age mothers and non-working parents as unfit for help.

            Simultaneously, industry is making two important changes:  1) increased use of temporary help, which for a significant portion of the work force effectively lowers wages, decreases stability in employment, eliminates access to benefits, and requires higher total work hours to maintain a consistent annual income, and 2) re-location away from the central city toward the highway access of edge cities.  Consequently, the pockets of poverty are getting deeper in the inner city, as people cannot access the types of gobs that match their education and training.

            Impoverished people who are not working are being hastily condemned despite the increasingly competitive work environment and clearly identifiable barriers like inadequate transportation, inconsistent work record, and the need to care for infants and children.

            The irony is too great to believe policy makers cannot see it.  Perhaps the ruling leaders know how tough it is to find a job and are trying to shame people to work against all odds.  Perhaps politicians are using the people that didn’t vote for them, or simply don’t vote at all, as the scapegoats for national economic problems.

            The obvious problem is that millions of people in the U.C. cities and rural communities are being cut of from public help and offered very limited economic alternatives.  One could argue such change may increase crime levels, or disease, or create some other crisis that will most severely affect poor families and their isolated neighborhoods.

            But the subtle problem is that people who elected the majority of state and federal policy makers will be blind to the consequences for the poor.  The middle class may see some kind of short-term improvements in government spending.  There may be some immediate economic payoff from an improved market.  Many people will maintain their income as industries move basic labor into another city suburb or country.  If their firm moves, or they need a different job they have the economic freedom to drive against rush-hour traffic, or in other directions bus lines don’t run.  And they can speed through the “bad” parts of town.

             The inexperience stemming from limited interaction with poor neighborhoods foster the growth of the new mythology against the poor.  Especially since November 1994, state and federal officials more boldly frame policy around the accumulation of political power, rather than in regard for the common good.  And as long as any one of us act apathetic, despite our beliefs, we too become a part of the problem.

            I encourage other Homeless Grapevine readers to remain open to the views of homeless and other people in poverty, and applaud the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless for raising a few eyebrows while helping people to become self-sufficient.

-          Bryan Gillooly

 Bill Gillooly was Directer of NEOCH until February 1995

           Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995