By Angelo Anderson
“Damn, this place is supper funky does any body bathe in here? Maybe not--since there are only two sinks and one toilet, with one sink is stopped up.” It's 9:30 at night and for the fourth time in my life I'm sleeping in a homeless shelter for men. I don't sleep here every night but some nights I have to and I hate it, there has to be a way to get off this floor and off these streets. Ten years ago, I had these thoughts and others running around in my head and I wasn't alone, sleeping on mats. Next to me were three men who felt the same way and we began to talk. That conversation lead to the birth of a street newspaper here in Cleveland, that paper The Homeless Grapevine became my way out of homelessness. It started me working as an advocate on homeless issues and awakened in me a desire to help other people in a position that I was once in.
Living in the richest nation on earth, I find it appalling that so many men, women, and children are homeless. Our nation finds billions of dollars each year to fund major businesses, support space exploration, fight wars, and rebuild foreign governments, while meanwhile, back on the farm, laws are being passed that criminalize homelessness. Local, state and federal governments have made it a crime to be homeless by enacting laws that effectively prohibit activities such as sleeping or camping in public, even when there are no shelter beds available.
Enabling, now a catchword used by many social service and government agencies, is bandied about like a new wonder drug, providing an easy way to withdraw services under the guise of not coddling the individual. Often, the decisions that go into enabling a person have nothing to do with a case plan as much as they do a funding decision.
Is it enabling to provide a warm, safe, and clean environment in which to sleep and eat to our own citizens in need? If this nation can help emerging and re-emerging countries find ways to join the 21st century, surely it can find the monies needed to create programs that will help Americans do the same.
With massive layoffs across the nation, thousands now face homelessness in the coming months. How much more does the gap between the have and the have-not's have to grow before this nation experiences riots in the streets? At what point does America's poor and downtrodden stand up demanding affordable housing for all, with a livable wage that will enable all of its citizens to have a chance to achieve the American dream. If this nation continues to allow programs to serve only the easiest, excluding more people than they serve, then the line between social service and social responsibility becomes blurred.
America has taken on the role of world leader, offering aid and support to many of the third world countries throughout the globe. But if this is truly to be a great nation then charity needs to start at home. If I am my brother's keeper, then the doors of opportunity need to be held opened for all.
Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Sepember 2003 in Issue 62.