Sunday, February 27, 2011

In a World of Hurt-Opportunity and Solidarity

No one likes to suffer. And some of us don't like to see others suffer. That's why I do what I do (activist for homeless families and youth). I'd have to say my friend Christi Parsons nailed it right when she said I'm someone who likes "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," (19th century Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne). So my abhorrence to suffering does have some caveats.

I don't know if it's just the hyper quantity (and hyping) of news we get nowadays, or if it's my hyper sensitivity to it. But it seems that globally we have an overabundance of stupidity and greed, to pick 2 most obvious characteristics. Having brushed up against those 2 un-virtues in Calhoun, GA last week, I'm still seething. 

This link will fill you in on what you need to know about the 2 legislators who allegedly caused the Oglethorpe Inn, a rundown "motel" to go belly-up pushing 80 people to the streets. Fortunately, 3 women spearheaded incredible efforts to find at least temporary housing for the displaced--families with kids and single men and women. Most people rely on government disability payments for their income, not enough to afford a regular place to live, security deposits, etc., one reason why they're in this dire situation.

The people hurt by this upheaval, in many cases, were the most vulnerable folks in Calhoun. They've been chewed up and spat out by society. Some are so broken--physically and mentally--that it hurt me to see them hurting so bad. Even their pets were hurting. It was profoundly sad to witness. Even sadder to experience firsthand.

What seems to be a positive turn, with all the protests going on in this land and across the seas, the powerless are starting to find their voices, and their shoes, and their protest signs. I hope it's not too late. Some of us have been begging people to take a stand against injustice and greed for years. We're all slow to jump on something that seems remote to us, like homelessness.

But with homelessness spreading like kudzu in urban and non-urban areas alike; with greedy bankers and mortgage lenders creating housing havoc and global economic mayhem; with employment shriveling like a baby too long in bathwater; and with union wages and benefits, health care and mental health services being slashed so budgets can be "bogus-balanced"...homelessness is getting an unwanted second look by many.

I'm not saying this is a good thing--that homelessness is now more real to more people than ever--but it does make it easier to inspire action. That's what I'm hoping, that you're willing to act. Here are 3 simple petitions (don't even need to get up!) that will collectively nudge some positive action:
  • Help bring some "hurt" to those who allegedly caused the motel to shut down. LINK
  • Get President Obama to invite me to the White House to screen our powerful new documentary, "on the edge," 7 women's stories about their homelessness. LINK 2
  • Urge Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) to focus his humorous wrath on the city leaders of Gainesville, FL so they'll lift the inane feeding limit on their soup kitchen. LINK 3 
 If this isn't enough--get out and act. Here are some suggestions:
  • Volunteer and/or support your local shelter or program that helps vulnerable families, youth and adults.
  • Collect needed items (new socks and undies are always needed) on a regular basis (don't wait for holidays, or make up your own holiday!).
  • Follow the HEAR US Compassion Epidemic page and share the call to action. 
  • Get copies of on the edge and My Own Four Walls. Watch them. Get groups to see them. 
  • Sign up for the free, no-hassle HEAR US e-newsletter, and share it with friends.
Seems to me we need to get off our collective duffs before they get kicked 6 ways to Sunday. Probably good to remember that unless you're one of the few uber-rich, a category that I'm not in, you're in danger of the things you most fear. There. Feel better now? I just shared the affliction!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'All Things Being Equal' -- Huh?

All things being equal. What a bogus concept that is!

Case in point: Calhoun, GA, a small town (15,000) in the northwest part of this diverse state. Someone figured, all things being equal, that mismanaging a motel that housed about 80 men, women and children who previously lost their housing wouldn't matter. So very wrong...!

I got a desperate SOS from my McKinney-Vento friends in this community. They knew I had been hanging out in Georgia. They just found out that the Oglethorpe Inn, a nondescript motel on the edge of an Interstate ramp, had the power shut off and people needed to find alternative housing ASAP. HELP! I was in Illinois at the time, planning to fly back to Tillie in GA and then head south. Change of plans.

I seethed as I flew. I seethed as my sister drove me to pick up Tillie. I seethed as I scooted across the state, heading to Calhoun. Arriving too late to do anything Saturday night, I prepped and hit the ground running on Sunday. Met with Roberta and Stacey, confirming my worst fears, but being totally impressed with their stalwart efforts (along with their teammate, Vicky). These three super-heroines were making sure everyone had a place to stay, at least temporarily, while better arrangements could be made. Despite their best efforts, all things are not credit histories, felony records, pets, stuff, lack of transportation, and other seemingly insurmountable barriers to rehousing dozens of income-challenged, fragile, frazzled folks.

Tillie and I headed over to the Oglethorpe. I knew a couple people there from our previous visit under the Southern (Dis)Comfort banner. It took only moments for these beleaguered folks to respond kindly to my camera-bearing presence. Yup. The same people being displaced by the dastardly deeds of a deacon of a church (also a state senator) and his business partner, a member of Congress. All things being equal...I'll take the "least functional" homeless folks on my team any day! Their stories need to be told, and justice needs to be done.

The convoluted story (still evolving, I hope) boils down to these assumedly responsible (the bank gave them a $2.2 mil loan) elected officials dumping the motel and its responsibilities on a hapless guy who may have stumbled in his efforts...resulting in the motel being shut down. All things being equal, it should have been fine...but it's not.

As a result of all things not being equal, 80 folks were forced to pack up their meager possessions and relocate to a variety of other places. No shelter in town for homeless families, and a limited one for men, so it's not like they had options. The 3 angels set about raising money to pop folks in motels or to pay for (very affordable, if you get the drift) apartments. By Monday, the deadline, all had been placed.

My take on the deal has the 2 legislators responsible for the bulk of the consequences that displaced the most vulnerable people in their community. And as a believer in "personal responsibility," I'm calling on those responsible to make things right. Here's my petition you can sign to add muscle to my challenge to them to do right, our meager effort to make all things equal....

It's my hope that those who should know better will discover that all things aren't equal for people who've experienced more than their share of lumps. That's why our government needs to be there to help...not hurt...because all things are not equal.

It seems to me that those of us who have any wherewithal to level the playing field, aka make all things equal, will have our work cut out for us, now more than ever. Fighting bogus bullies could be a full-time job!