LaMarche Tours American Homeless Shelters

by Kevin E. Cleary

          Green Party VP Candidate Pat LaMarche On Her Tour of Homeless America         

            The presidential election of 2004 brought with it the usual rhetoric and mudslinging from the two major parties. While America’s voters were almost split down the middle, Green Party Vice-Presidential Candidate Patricia LaMarche took the time to explore the lives of those who were caught in the middle, but were largely off the political radar this election.

            LaMarche undertook a two-week tour of Homeless America that started September 21st in Portland, ME and ended in Cleveland on October 4th to raise awareness of the needs of people who are homeless, jobless, and without health care. She stayed in local shelters or on the streets in fourteen different cities, including staying outside the home of Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington, DC. During her tour, she led donation drives for blankets, children’s books, towels, toiletries, and other non-perishable items while encouraging others to participate in the National Homeless and Low Income Voting Registration week.

            She based the idea for this venture upon something she had done previously when running for Governor of Maine in 1998. During that election, she toured and worked in 20 different small businesses in 20 days. According to LaMarche, “I think that most often, the people who have problems also have their own solutions; they’re just not listened to.” Thus, when she was asked to be the Vice-Presidential candidate of the Green Party in 2004, she stipulated that she wanted to deal with and raise awareness of issues that matter to her, such as poverty and homelessness. This was her way of doing so.

            “Because of what I was doing, I didn’t want to lie to get into any shelters. The only place I lied to get into was the shelter in New York,” LaMarche said.

            She believes that New York City has the worst facilities for homeless people. She said she was forced to lie to get into a shelter in New York City because they do not want the press or government officials to broadcast the realities of New York City shelters. Also, a lot of people in New York have had their children taken away as a result of being homeless. These laws vary from state to state, but it is all too common that those who must deal with the trials of being homeless must also endure the trauma of separation from family. She mentioned further that most of the individuals she encountered on her tour were employed; they just don’t make enough to adequately support themselves. For instance, “Manhattan has 111 McDonald’s, but most of the people who are working there aren’t living in Manhattan.”

            Of the cities in which she stayed, Pat LaMarche spoke most highly of how homeless people are treated in Detroit because there is the political will and it is building the proper infrastructure to deal with the myriad concerns of homeless people. According to LaMarche, Detroit is also more successful because in general, it makes dealing with homelessness a priority, something many cities fail to do. In particular she mentioned Detroit’s COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter). “I think if the COTS programs were adopted nationwide, and properly funded, we could virtually eliminate homelessness,” LaMarche said.

            She believes COTS is so successful because of its four-step process to assist those who are homeless. She likens the COTS approach to “a triage in an emergency room.” Its first step is to get homeless people off the streets and placed in a shelter. From the shelter, individuals and families are given an assessment detailing the obstacles to their finding permanent housing, such as debt management, addiction counseling, etc. They are then placed in intermediate housing until permanent housing can be found. All cases are followed-up for two years after placement in permanent housing as the final step.

            Along the way, LaMarche found that most people were eager to donate canned goods and other non-perishables, but that particular solution is only temporary and won’t address the endemic problem. She felt it was especially important to raise awareness of the issues of homelessness during the election because it is a growing problem that is largely ignored except during the holidays. “I volunteered at a soup kitchen in Bangor, Maine, and I was always sent home at Thanksgiving and Christmas because there were so many volunteers,” she said.

            She had planned to stay in the Community Women’s Shelter in Cleveland the night before the Vice-Presidential debate, but was unable to stay there because of their policy of excluding independent observers (see commentary by Tenecia Stokes). Instead, she slept on the couch of an individual in Cleveland who she later found was formerly homeless. According to LaMarche, “One thing about homelessness is that any one you meet could be or could have been homeless.”

            Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #68, February 2005. All Rights Reserved.