Commentary: America Not Treating Homeless People with Dignity

Commentary by Brian Davis

        The outrageous quote of 1998 was from Sandy Berger from June of 1998 as reported by the Associated Press when President Clinton was in Beijing to meet with Chinese officials. If you remember, Chinese officials arrested several political dissidents right before Clinton arrived. Berger was asked to comment on these arrests. He said, "The Chinese security apparatus (is) doing what comes naturally to them. People are not debris to be swept up for a visitor, and we have expressed our concern about this to the Chinese government.

        Hey, Mr. Berger, how about expressing concern to your own government for treating homeless people like debris? Remember the Atlanta Olympics? The city of Atlanta had to settle with the homeless people who they swept away to "clean up" the city. Look at San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and Cleveland that have engaged in homeless sweeps to remove the "human debris" in order to make the city more tourist friendly. And those cities were not even expecting a visit from the most powerful man in the world.

        Pathetic campaigns I: Mayor White ran on the platform that he has created over 1,000 new housing units in Cleveland. At the same time he said that he boarded up 1,000 houses because of this new drug house seizure policy. This seems like a wash to me. Build 1,000 expensive homes and close 1,000 houses that a low income person could live in.

        Pathetic campaign II: Governor Voinovich in his Senate campaign (and actually many governors) ran on the platform that they have cut the welfare roles by some sizable figure. Is this something that we should rejoice over? If these former recipients were better off or had graduated into some stable life this would be great. Cutting children into oblivion and future homelessness is not something to cheer about. Next up: Please re-elect me because I built more prisons; I added two new electric chairs so we can have simultaneous executions; I closed all the public hospitals (too expensive); I privatized all the public schools. I am a leader?

        Why do the simplest solutions always elude us? Instead of forcing women into the workforce where they will most likely make a very low income, and be forced to have another very low income woman take care of their children. Why not cut out the middle man, and pay women to take care of their own children.? You then give them a bonus if they are raising a child that is healthy and attending school. This would not be a lavish life, but it would be better than then the non-union, stress filled, burger flipping, degrading, I hate my life world that currently exists.

        Are sports and in-depth weather really news? Why is every local news exactly alike? When are they going to realize that once people get comfortable with two smiling faces they are not going to change to two other smiling faces. I think that it would be a big ratings boost for the third and fourth place television news programs to do something completely different.

        Here is my suggestion: No smiles, no sports, no stupid banter, no interruptions, only one sentence on the weather for the next day, and only serious, real, local, news. Lead with what is coming up on the news then take an extended commercial break. Then tell what the weather will be the next day. (No more than one sentence, dammit.) We all know what the weather was today because we lived it. No sports because all those other stations do a better job with it. Advertise it as news for smart people. That would force the entire suburbs of Cleveland Hts, Shaker Hts, and Lakewood to watch the program. Everyone who lives in these inner ring suburb things that they are smarter than everyone else in the area.

        Just go straight through the news, no commercials. Put in one look at the artistic community or a poem (again, to get those snobby suburbs.) Sprinkle in some kind of point counter point debate and finish up with some news by representatives of certain neighborhoods. (Wouldn't it be great to hear about what is really going on in Hough from a reporter like Fannie Lewis?) Oh yeah, do one news story a night in Spanish, Russian, Slovak, or Arabic. Repeat the weather at the end and finish with extended commercials. This way people (not from Lakewood, Cleveland Hts, and Shaker) could turn it if they just had to see some sports. I guarantee that if they adopted my ideas they would win their time slot with in six months.

        We are afraid of the wrong people. There is this inherent fear of homeless people which I contend is misplaced. Look at the Site A overflow shelter. Undoubtedly, one of the worst places to live in the city. There are dirty mats stacked on top of each other on a concrete floor. It is always overcrowded and there is no telling what kind of performance enhancing drug your neighbor is on. The conditions are worse than the jail, and people freely go there out of the cold every night. And yet no one has ever died or been seriously hurt inside. Imagine if we locked some of these egotistical business types in a small room for the night and they had to sleep on the floor within an inch of their neighbor with only one bathroom. By morning, there would be a number of vacancies on Cleveland Tomorrow's Board.

        I would never advocate that someone break the law, but there is this guy Robert Teir of this Brown shirt type organization called the Center for Livable Cities who travels around the country to suggest ideas on how communities can put in place "street order maintenance" and forward "urban quality issues." Basically, he tells cities how to craft constitutional regulations to prohibit panhandling, ban sitting on the sidewalks, ban camping in parks, or make it illegal to empty trash cans. If there was justice in the world, Teir should be arrested for "Inciting Unnecessary Fear in the Community" and sentenced to spend one year on the streets. Then he could see how it is if he had no family or friends to rely on and no place to go out of the elements. It would be easier to comment on the livability of a city if you have had to walk the city in the rain for eight hours and not be able to sit on the PUBLIC sidewalk.

        Postscript: This Center for Livable Cities organization is a non-profit organization so they do not pay any taxes to these cities that they are trying to make more livable. How about paying your entrance fee in taxes to the school system and road repair before you start commenting on the quality of the city?

        The President of the Homeless: I love the exaggerated sense that many homeless people have of themselves. I think that shows the true spirit of mankind. In the face of losing everything including a place to stay some develop this sense of fame in the community. Big fish in a small pond mentality.

I talked to a guy on the phone who was homeless and he told me to meet him at night by the food truck and he gave me his street name-Kilroy. I said, "How am I going to recognize you?" He said, "Just ask for me. Everyone knows me." So I went down to the food truck that night at the time that we agreed to meet, and I must have asked 60 people, "Have you seen Kilroy?" Not one guy knew who I was talking about. Kilroy kept his dignity by thinking that he was at least famous in the homeless community, which is all right. I like that.

        Come out, come out where ever you are and meet the young lady who fell from a star. The U.S. Census is again planning a one day count of all homeless people in the country. In 1990, they came up with pathetically small numbers of homeless people that most cities and government offices refused to use the figures. In Cleveland, they did not even count the people in every shelter. This is the one time that most city officials want to interact with homeless people so that their population does not continue to decline. They better rise up and fight this proposal or we will once again discover that our city's have a paper solution to the homeless problem. Don't count our friends and they don't exist.

        Police Chief Flask, please arrest the Biggest Aggressive Pan Handler in the City: Civic Vision 2000. "Hey buddy, can you spare an Aquarium?" Sorry, I am fresh out. I haven't even paid for the stadiums yet. "Come on, how about a luxury hotel?" No, get away from me. "All right, if you don't give me Convention Center I am going to follow you the rest of the day." Fine, here you go, just don't bother me. I just came downtown to look at the lights.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 32 February 1999