Commentary: Hold Open Opportunity for All

By Angelo Anderson

    Damn this place is super funky does anybody bath in here? Maybe not since there are only two sinks and one toilet, with one sink 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. Those conversations 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 business, support space exploration, fight wars, and rebuild foreign governments. Meanwhile, back on the farm, laws are being passed that criminalize homelessness. Local, state and federal programs 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 regard enabling a person has 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 need 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 al 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 become 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.

   With opportunity must come responsibility on the part of the recipient as well as the service provider? No free hand outs on an unlimited time basis; people who work, people who have an income, and utilize the shelter system must carry some of the financial burden. Changing the way we address homelessness may have many benefits for both sides. The cost to the service providers would decrease and may free up funds that can be used for other support services. The self esteem level of many will rise just knowing that you taking responsibility for how you live can spark a change in one’s thinking. If I’m paying x amount of money to sleep in a shelter then maybe I can afford to live in a place of my own.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #67 Cleveland, Ohio December 2004