Thursday, April 5, 2007

Losing the war?

I didn’t write yesterday because 1) I was too upset and 2) I was too busy

On Tuesday, an apartment house fire in Springfield left 43 people homeless. I was wondering how many of them would wind up in shelters. Most poor and working people don’t have enough money saved to handle a disaster like this, and family members and friends, who tend also to be poor, don’t usually have a spare room. I checked into Springfield’s forum on MassLive later in the day and was immediately sorry I did—the first poster to mention the fire wondered why so many Hispanics were “victims” of fires…quotation marks courtesy of the poster…followed by posts about how 43 people could possibly live in 9 apartments (that’s actually less than five people in a household) and if only these Hispanics would stop breeding, then there would be fewer to be displaced…..I kid you not, this is the level of dialogue most common on MassLive.

Tuesday night about 11 pm. my sister called me with an urgent message: “Quick, turn to Channel 22.” I saw the tail end of an interview with Bill Miller, Executive Director of Friends of the Homeless, saying that the shelters were no longer going to be taking referrals from agencies outside the city. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was—I’d seen Bill at a City Council meeting a month ago and had actually called him on an interview he’d given to a reporter a few days before, where he had seemed to imply that it was wrong for people who come from outside Springfield to stay in “our” shelters. He said he’d been taken out of context and that he’d been talking about sex offenders….a whole other story…

I won’t bore you with the round of calls I made the next day to figure out what was really going on. At some point I talked to Gerry McCafferty, the city's deputy director of homeless and special needs housing, who stressed the need for “a regional approach” to solving homelessness, stating that the Friends of the Homeless approach would at least pressure other communities to start dealing with their own homeless problem. She said that other communities either need to take care of their own, or pay Springfield for taking care of them.

All this sounds good…but Holyoke, Westfield and Northampton actually have shelters, and I could make a case that seeing as Friends of the Homeless receives much of its funding from the state, people in the communities Gerry mentioned—Chicopee, Ludlow, West Springfield and Longmeadow— actually do pay—their state taxes, which are then redistributed, and some of which wind up at F.O.H.

What continues to astound me is the absolute shallowness of analysis that pervades this city about the causes of homelessness and poverty. Without that analysis, we find ourselves in a situation similar to the Iraq war. Military and political analysts are saying that it doesn’t matter how effective our tactics in Iraqare , if we lack strategic goals, our tactics can actually work against us.

The Springfield business community seems convinced that homeless and poor people are responsible for the lack of economic development in Springfield. Of course there is a relationship, but it is not so simple as Cause and Effect.

I know that if every homeless person magically disappeared from our city today, it would have little or no impact on our prospects for revitalizing our city. The underlying problems would remain.

F.O. H. has to raise money from the business community in order to build its new, city-sanctioned shelter, so this pronouncement is a good move on their part.

I looked up the definition of pander in the dictionary—to cater to or profit from the weaknesses, vices or prejudices of others.

I was watching Jericho on TV last night, a show about a town utterly cut off from communication after a nuclear war. The mayor had decided to drive out 50 refugees because the town didn’t feel it had enough food to share. One refugee is talking to a woman from the town, asking why the refugees had had to stay in a shelter when there were so many empty houses. The woman said, “But those are the houses of our neighbors, who just weren’t in town when the bombs fell.” The man replied, “Well, whatever towns they are in now, I hope they are finding warmth and shelter.”

1 comment:

Caty said...

The internet needs your commentary.