Sunday, April 8, 2007

Shopping Cart Wars

At its last meeting, the Springfield City Council approved a zoning change to prohibit new bottle redemption centers from opening anywhere but in industrial areas in the city.

Council Domenic Sarno said he wished the rule could go further, forcing existing redemption centers to relocate (with the city’s help, he says).

The South End Citizens Council approved of the zone change, saying the sight of overflowing shopping carts isn’t helping the South End rebound.

I too find it terribly disturbing to see poor and homeless people, in the dead of winter, pushing shopping carts through the snow. They don’t make snow tires for shopping carts so it’s not easy going. Sometimes people will not only fill a cart, but also fill green garbage bags and tie them to the sides—but even so, making as much as $20 is exceptional. And it’s hard work.

After people get their money, they will then spend it on cigarettes, food, alcohol, gloves, bus fare, aspirin, cough medicine or crack.

For a lot of homeless people, a shopping cart is the centerpiece of their home.

The carts may hold the last remaining vestiges of an old life plus all the new and possibly useful stuff given to them or scrounged from the trash. It may include rope and a sheet of plastic to form the roof over their heads that night, with the cart as a back wall.

One of the city’s most visible homeless people, let us call her Bella, was in an endless struggle with the Springfield Police over her shopping cart. More than once other homeless people would find Bella sitting on the sidewalk, crying, her belongings in a heap around her where the police had dumped them out and confiscated her cart. The rationale here is that the carts are stolen property—you can’t go to a store and buy one, they all belong to some business. (Designboom held a contest and came up with some great ideas for shopping carts for the homeless. That doesn’t mean they’re being produced, though.)

Bella now has her own apartment, one of the first “chronically homeless” placed by the Mental Health Association under the city’s new "Homes Within Reach” plan. My name is listed as a contributor to that document, as I was, but not in the way one might think. More on that later.

My nephew is home on leave from the Navy and I am off to have dinner with him and my Springfield family.

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