Commentary: The Divide is Huge and the Next Four Years will be Rough

 by Brian Davis

    Of course we are divided…Elections have become so vitriolic that it is difficult for the losing side to accept that the winner is capable of governing. According to George Bush supporters, John Kerry was unsure of his positions, lied about his war record, and was unpatriotic in opposing the Vietnam War. According to John Kerry supporters, George Bush was unsure of his positions, lied about his war record, and was an idiot. How are the blue states supposed to be governed by an idiot who lies and led us to war while dodging his own military service? How are the red states supposed to be magnanimous in victory when the opposition supports a weak, morally bankrupt charlatan? Each candidate and their 527 friends spent over a billion telling us that the other person was not fit to govern. That kind of money sinks in, and permeates all future debate. It polarizes the electorate and seems to be leading to a permanent divide.

   If the country cannot unite in the face of a terrorist attack that struck at the heart of blue states as well as red states, what hope do we have? There is no way to spend so much money on political advertising for 30 years in order to get elected without having a lasting impact. Supporters will believe that the opposition is an idiot or a flip flopper or a war criminal or a heretic. How does the minority population accept the decisions of an individual who is a liar or from a person that they believed stole the election or from a person that they feel is making decisions to benefit friends and not for the good of the country.

   So, what do the brilliant minds within the homeless movement see for the next four years? I have no idea, because most are in shock and have not figured out what to do. Here are my thoughts for what will happen over the next four years.

Homeless budget cuts or redirection to other programs

   The deficit is going to play a huge role in the near future. Normally, Republicans are viewed as the least concerned about social welfare programs, which is an oversimplification of the situation. Republican control in Ohio has not lead to a destruction of the safety net just a torpedoing of it so that it is more like a safety sponge with huge holes that swallows people never to be heard again. Republicans do care about social welfare, but it is just way down on the list. They will have an incredible balancing act to perform by attempting to govern, please their religious fundamentalist base, stop all attempts to raise taxes while not looking like they are mean to poor people.

   Homeless programs receive nearly $1 billion $200 million for the entire country. Wholesale cutting of this pool is unlikely, but they will pear it down to take care of other needs so some will go to Health and Human Services for a Samaritan Initiative. Some funds will go to other programs that homeless people depend on, but the result will be less money for basic homeless programs like shelter and targeted housing.

Housing programs face greatest risk

   It is incredibly expensive to house people who do not have any money coming into a household. So, it is unlikely that there will be major cuts in any one year so as not to be perceived as being vengeful toward low income individuals, but there will be major changes in the program with small cuts every year. There will be an attempt to privatize the entire Department. I believe that Congress will either authorize a block grant to states to distribute housing dollars or some welfare reform type hybrid. I am not sure that the Democrats will go along like they did with welfare so it probably will be a dramatic change. HUD employees may want to get their resumes updated.

   Vouchers for housing will also be on the decline. This program is an ever escalating cost burden on the Federal treasury. By transferring the cost to the states and putting a time limit on the use of vouchers the dominant party can control costs. This will lend cover to Federal Republicans who can claim immunity from the fallout of Moms with children loosing their housing because of time limits. Who knows if the media will actually do the necessary research on the impact of budget changes, because they certainly were asleep at the wheel in illuminating the problems that resulted because of the welfare changes.

Cuts to homeless people impact everyone

   It is ever more difficult to even renew all the programs that are supported by the federal government. As it stands today almost every shelter has to go through the process of struggling to get federal funding every year. There are no longer many multiple year grants given. I believe that by 2006, the entire allocation will go to renewing the existing programs in Cleveland and other urban communities. In 2007, the programs will then need to compete with each other and only the best grant writers will win.

   This all sounds cold, but the Republicans have this beautiful system already in place to justify their cuts. They have already informed the communities that they needed to start counting homeless people by 2004 or their funding would be jeopardized. For those who do not know, counting homeless people is like counting grains of sand as it passes through a very big strainer. Many homeless people refuse to be counted, other agencies do not want their clients counted, and many homeless people never show up to be counted. So in my opinion only 40-60% of the population is ever counted with these systems. These statistics submitted by the cities will be the facts used by the federal government to determine funding and will result in huge budget cuts. How ironic that the cities will submit to data collecting that will then result in a loss of funding.

Certain populations will do better than others

   Moms who dare to have a child out of wedlock will not fair so well over the next four years. Children who were taken from their parents will do fine. Homeless people with some blatant disability will see some improvement in the services available, but it will be very difficult to get any public assistance. There will be a strict guideline for keeping people off of the disability “gravy train,” because there are so many who want to be doomed to living in poverty for the rest of their life and have a disability label taint the rest of their life.

Real Health Care Rationing

   Twelve years ago, there was a groundswell of anger over Hillary care, which was feared to lead to the rationing of health care. No one talked to the poor who have felt for years that health care was rationed. How is it in Cleveland that the King of Jordan travels thousands of miles to get help from the Cleveland Clinic, but the people who live across the street from the back of the building are encouraged or diverted to the west side to go to Metro Health? Why do homeless and low-income wait 9, 12, 15 or 24 hours for help at the hospital emergency room? The situation has gotten even worse over twelve years where we have seen intake nurses ask “Do you have insurance?” as the first question even before “What brought you to the hospital?”

   Over the next four years, health care will become more bureaucratic and even more difficult to access. The promises of Welfare Reform was that families would have access to health care while they toil in do nothing low paying jobs. We learned that America does not have the money to honor that promise. States will have no choice but to stop covering some poor people or bankrupt their own treasury. We are left to wonder if those Life Flight helicopters could make it all the way across Lake Erie.

Civil Rights for minority and homeless people gone.

   “Fergetta ‘bout it.” Civil Rights will be ruled an obscenity by the Federal Communications Commission. If a federal employee utters these two dangerous words over the next four years, they will incur huge fines and possible jail time.

 Jobs and Economic Justice.

   The one bright spot in the next four years for Ohio. As a “battleground state” rural Ohio will most likely get tax breaks, funding and corporate welfare in order to create jobs as a thank you for the support. My experience of the previous four years is that the administration is big on retaliation. (The National Coalition for the Homeless was bankrupted because they would not support the Bush Administration’s homeless policy.) It would seem that if past practice holds communities like Cleveland and Columbus that voted for the opposition will continue to be starved of federal resources. In the last six years, agencies have cropped up to carry homeless people two hours daily to Twinsburg and Solon to fill jobs. Homeless people already wake up at 4 a.m. to get on these vans. Prepare for 2 a.m. wake up calls for 8 a.m. jobs in Ashland and Mansfield.

   This all seems so bleak and pessimistic. There is no way that it can be this bad. Maybe I am exaggerating, but look at the last decade. Homelessness vanished from the front pages under the Clinton administration, and became the target of budget cuts in the last four years. Things have gotten less stable in all our communities. Rents continue to rise despite a soft rental market, and jobs pay less. In fact, every cost except those at WalMart have gone up and it is hard to find jobs that pay a decent wage. Homeless people in almost every city are harassed, tormented and in most cities are shunned or forced out of sight. All this anger is often focused on the most fragile with kids attacking homeless people with stun guns in Cleveland and murdering homeless people in Denver. The Reds will continue to fight the Blues, and the impoverished, unemployed, disabled, and homeless are the casualties of that war.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #67 Cleveland, Ohio December 2004