Monday, December 31, 2007

Greater Internet Dickwad Theory

Happy New Year to My Friends and Foes at MassLive.

Blogging for the New Year

I'm taking a friend to the doctor's later on this afternoon, but I have some time now to think a bit about the experience of blogging and what I'd like to do this year.

My blog was born on April 1, 2007. In my first post, Why Today?, I said I wanted my blog to be a way for me to stay in touch with the political life of our city and how it affected poor and homeless people; I thought a new job would take me out of the mainstream. That hasn't been quite as true as I feared, but blogging has certainly helped me to keep focused.

At first I thought I had to write everything myself and it took me a while to realize I could link to great material from other blogs, websites and news sources. What a lot of great writing and organizing is taking place in the blogosphere!

When I started blogging I didn't know about the advice to find and develop a niche in the blogging world and now I'm glad I didn't. Of course I want people to read my blog; I want my blog to be relevant to our local struggles, but it's become more a reflection of who I am and what I care about than I anticipated. On the other hand, I have not yet subjected my readers to my struggles as a self-taught person to understand physics! Maybe some day.

Most of my posts have been about homelessness and poverty, with anti-racist struggles and the environment following closely behind. Animals, gardening and poetry also make appearances. What I see out of my own eyes remains more significant to me than what I read.

So: for the coming year:
-- I am happy to report that Arise for Social Justice has totally reorganized and will be opening a new office on State St. soon. I'll have plenty to write about that.
Homelessness, housing and poverty remain number one on my list. I hope to provide a lot more information than I have to date about struggles and successes around the world.
-- A world to live in: we still have a chance to save this planet. Everything matters: what we do personally, the choices our local elected officials make (or don't make), energy production, water use-- I could go on and on. This year I want to look at Springfield's direction. We get to call ourselves a "green city" because we are blessed with an incredible amount of green space and waterways, but we have no vision about how we could provide plenty of new jobs if we moved toward sustainability.

Time to go and appreciate the morning's new snow.

Photo: A New Leaf from Blog with a View.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Number of homeless encampments is increasing: crisis and opportunity Part One

Tent Cities: What they're like, why they're growing, and how they're a part of the burgeoning international movement for housing..

I've been tracking the growth of homeless encampments and tent cities across the country ever since 2004, when homeless people and Arise for Social Justice organized our own "Sanctuary City" in Springfield, MA. Our tent city, which came about to meet the crisis of a shelter closing, lasted six months and sheltered 70-80 people a night-- some 400+ people over the course of the encampment's lifetime.

On a disorder to order scale of one to ten, Sanctuary City ranked about 7.5. Run by homeless people themselves with training and material support from Arise and others, it was visible, political, and absolutely essential to people's wellbeing. Sanctuary City closed when the Warming Place shelter was able to reopen in November.

The intent of my research, initially, was to look for existing models of organization that could be used to help Sanctuary City residents self-manage and survive. I couldn't find much but I did find Dignity Village in Portland, OR and ShareWheel in Seattle, WA. ShareWheel had put up a page at about tent cities that was particularly helpful.

How things have changed in the last three years! Like other social issues, I know that increased reporting may account for some of my perception that tent cities are becoming more common. On the other hand, the forces that create homelessness certainly haven't diminished. In any case, there is never a day that I can't find a new mention of tent cities and encampments.

Unless you live in a gated community, or an extremely affluent town surrounded by other affluent towns (and maybe not even then), you have people without homes sleeping rough all around you.

  • Sometimes people throw up a tent or a tarp or two in public parks, riverbanks or behind abandoned stores. Survival there depends on remaining absolutely unnoticed, or noticed by only a few people who, for whatever reason, leave them alone.
  • Larger, more visible communities often spring up in semi-public places-- under a bridge, in a field, in the parking lot of a deserted mall. People wind up there because they've seen or heard about it. Some people have been kicked out of a shelter while others wouldn't be caught dead in one. Mostly these encampments operate with no structure, little structure or with a set of standards that are hard to enforce.
  • Other, more structured tent city communities often are started by homeless people with some political awareness or who work in conjunction with a sympathetic, organized group or church. These communities, like the recent New Orleans tent city, often have political goals as well as meeting the immediate shelter needs of their residents.
But whether residents have political goals or not, I have never seen an encampment of homeless people develop solely for political purposes.

At yesterday's Arise meeting, I heard about a woman who was kicked out of the Friends of the Homeless shelter for three days because she allegedly was turning tricks behind the building. She was banned from the overnight shelter too, because that shelter is also run by the Friends. So that's it for homeless women in Springfield-- nowhere else to go, now that the Warming Place has closed. The next two closest shelters that take women are fifteen and twenty miles away and may or may not have room, and whatever you may or may not think about her behavior, being unsheltered is especially dangerous for women. If she knew any of the people tenting out last night, that's probably where she went.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Slavery now and then

Came across a review today in the Texas Observer of a new book by John Bowe, Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy. "The book focuses on fruit pickers in South Florida; Indian welders in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Asian garment workers and sex slaves in the tiny U.S. commonwealth of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean." If you think slavery is a thing of the past, check out this review and this book.

For a taste of what one person can do to right injustice, read the page on slavery in Brits at Their Best.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Feeding people and fighting stereotypes at the same time

A friend tipped me off to this great project in Lawrence, MA called Labels are for Jars. The effort raises money to feed people by sales of a tee-shirt that challenges labeling. Around here, you can get these tee-shirts at Newberry Comics, downtown Amherst.

Black people love us

The website Black People Love Us might make you squirm a bit. It's hilarious, pointed, and all too true. Check it out.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

38 names at today's Homeless Memorial

Cold. Old faces, new faces. 38 candles were lit and 38 names were read.

Rev. Dyson coordinated this year's memorial. It was tender and moving

A half dozen of us from Arise came down. I got to meet an Iranian man who is a frequent poster on our listserve AriseAction and we talked about peace.

I saw Kevin Noonan, the Director of the Open Pantry, and he told me that he'd found a place for the food pantry just today. It's up State St. in a building owned by Springfield Partners for Community Action, right across from Arise's old office. And our new office is only two blocks further down State St., opposite the community college.

I'm 60 years old today. I've always liked my birthdate-- first day of winter, nearly the solstice, and yet the days grow longer from here. But on the darkest night of the year, in cities across the country, we stop to remember those who have died without a home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Boston homeless man dies of exposure

According to the Boston Globe, a homeless man was found dead last night on conservation land near the Globe office in Dorchester.

Boston started its annual homeless census last night.

Last year, the census identified 6,636 homeless men, women, and children in the city, a 4 percent increase over the previous year. The number of families who were homeless increased by 13 percent from 2005 to 2006.

All the beds at Pine St. Inn were full, and 65 people slept on the floor.

Springfield usually does a homeless census, but I haven't heard anything about it this year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Homeless Persons Memorial Day

Remember our neighbors and friends
who have died without homes
December 21, 2007
4 p.m.
Court Square Springfield

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Orleans - it's NOT too late to make a difference

Before Katrina: 6,000 homeless people in the city. After Katrina: 12,000, some of whom have been camping across the street from City Hall. The mayor was going to kick everyone off last week, but now it's been postponed. What wasn't postponed, unfortunately, was the bulldozing of the first of four public housing projects.

The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) had joined community activists in trying for a temporary injunction. That failed, because the judge said City Council had voted to demolish the projects four years ago. The destruction of three other projects, however, may be able to be held off indefinitely. At lest 3,000 people who used to live in public housing remain scattered throughout the country.

It's not that public housing in New Orleans before Katrina was so great; it needed and deserved renovations. The N.O. Housing Authority wants to replace the public housing projects with mixed-income, mixed use developments. Sounds great in theory, but too often is just an excuse for the displacement of poor people.

The PPEHRC National Coordinator Cheri Honkala is calling on all of us to make sure HUD knows we are watching them. We want the existing public housing projects preserved and renovated. (Actually, we want a lot more than that, but let's start here.)

Secretary Alphonso Jackson
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W., Washington, DC 20410
Telephone: (202) 708-1112 TTY: (202) 708-1455
(press #6 for employee directory)
HUD Inspector General Hotline for complaints:
TDD: (202) 708-2451

The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign is a movement of organizations to which my organization, Arise for Social Justice, belongs. Four years ago we marched together in NYC at the Republican National Convention. This year, if all goes well, we'll be together again in Minneapolis, MN.

You can check out some of Cheri's day to day postings from New Orleans here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not easy being homeless in Springfield

I was going to put up some links from MassLive and LocalBuzz to illustrate some of the publicity homeless efforts are getting in Springfield, but for some reason, all I could find was a LocalBuzz interview with a staffperson at the Worthington St. Shelter. The other stories seem to have disappeared.

Meanwhile, over at MassLive, Springfield's "forum," homeless people continue to take a beating from those who hide behind their made-up names. Folks have really been on a roll recently, comparing homeless people to zombies, calling the folks who eat at the soup kitchen a bunch of slobs, calling them crazy, dangerous, etc...I try to remember that not every poster feels that way; the more reasonable people probably just don't bother to respond to the worst comments. Most people think that homeless people choose to be homeless, because they won't take the steps necessary to move ahead. Well, of course it's much easier to fall into a hole than it is to climb out.

Some horrendous crimes have been happening in Springfield. The one this week that just leaves me shaking my head in sorrow is the murder of a 20 year old kid delivering pizzas by a 28 year old man.What the hell. There was a picture of the man being arraigned in today's paper: a slight figure, all hunched over, looking as if he was filled with shame. Maybe that's just my wish-- that he not be some genuine psychopath unable to feel remorse but someone who will have to live with what he has done-- taken the life of another young man who was only doing his job, trying to get ahead.

I'm no sociologist and I admit I have an unabashed allegiance to the poor and working class. But I'm no romantic, either, and not one who thinks there's no role for personal responsibility in our fates.

Many years ago, before I ever knew there'd be an Arise for Social Justice in Springfield, I used to be part of a program called Decisional Training that went into the county jails and taught decision-making skills to the prisoners both in a group and one to one. We could bring in books. One of them was Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. It's been years since I read it, but Frankl used his experience in a Nazi concentration camp to question why, barring the random and systematic murders over which prisoners had no control, some people lived and some people did not survive their experience. Frankl came to the conclusion that after all other freedoms were taken away, those who refused to give up their final freedom, the freedom to decide how they were going to react, were those who survived. I am oversimplifying both Frankl and the complexities of survival in those hellholes, but the gist of holds true.

Anyway, it was a very popular book in the jail, and was passed to person after person. After that we'd bring in a copy every few months. These guys recognized something about the power in choosing.

Sometimes when I'm talking with somebody about poor or homeless people, and we go back and forth, we often wind up at the same place, with that person saying that: people choose to stay poor, or homeless, or drug-addicted. And sometimes that looks to be about as true as it can be.

But then the question I want us to ask, that we have to ask, is, how does it come to be that people are willing to settle for so little? How and when and why is the damage done?

Well, I doubt this will be one of my more-read postings, but I would certainly wish for thoughtful response.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

National Language

For an interesting discussion of what should be our national language and how and why this debate has been shaped, check out There's A Pattern Here to See.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Birds can die of thirst

From Super Cool Pets:

We all want to conserve energy these days for environmental and economical reasons. That's why we love the Deluxe Solar Sipper Birdbath. It keeps the birdbath drinking water from freezing by capturing sunlight to warm an air-insulated pocket. Effective to -20 degrees, depending upon weather conditions. Your backyard birds will thank you for supplying a much needed water supply in freezing temps. And in warmer weather, the insulation helps keep the water cool. Includes simple mounting bracket and hardware for placement anywhere in your backyard or garden.

Dimensions: 9-1/2" dia x 3-1/2" high

Birds can die of thirst

I had my first suspicions
when all of the ravens
flew north for the winter.
Everything seeded early
yet leaves clung to the trees
like it was going out of style
and squirrels cowered in the branches
instead of heading for my eaves
when the deep frost lowered.

Outside my window
life crouches against the earth
so as not to call attention.
I cannot change voices in this verse
to speak for the sparrow
chipping at the ice
not wanting to die of thirst
but I will call the answer
if one is given.

how much is a life worth?

The New York Times reported today (in the Business section) that Medicare is going to reduce its reimbursement rate for two successful cancer drugs to such a degree that hospitals will stop offering the drugs for treatment-- AND, due to federal rules, hospitals aren't allowed to administer a drug to ANY patient if they can't give it to Medicare patients.

These drugs have been incredibly successful in creating long-term remission for non-Hodgkins lymphoma patients when other treatments have failed. Medicare says hospitals are charging too much to buy and administer the drugs.

I wonder just how Medicare figured out the cost of a human life?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

If the rich can't take it with them, at least they can let the rest of us know they had it!

Right after I posted this morning, I came across a Boston Globe article about Thomas R. Hudson Jr., who has just had a one million dollar mausoleum built for him in Blue Hill Cemetery in Braintee.

But enough about the rich. On the opposite end of such vainglory are natural cemeteries -- Greensprings Natural Cemetery, in New York's Finger Lakes Region, is the third such burial ground in the U.S. No embalming, biodegradable coffin, small flat headstone in a natural setting. From their site: " choosing how and where we are buried, aach one of us can converse, sustain and protect the earth...the earth from which, of course, we came and to which we will return."

Ecopod has pressed paper coffins; Kent Casket makes simple pine boxes. Much to think about, here. When will Massachusetts have a natural cemetery?

Millionaires need not apply

The U.S. now has 482 billionaires, meaning you can't just be a millionaire and make it on the Forbes' list of 400 richest Americans.

Guess if you have that much money, you won't think twice about buying your kid a Thomas the Tank Engine Custom Built Train at $46,950, or adding a $7,000 handbag to your wardrobe.

Meanwhile, the poverty level for a family of four remains at the stupendously low $20,294.

When regular people think about wealth, and what we'd do with it if we had it, we think we might run out of things to buy. How many cars, homes and private jets can one person actually use, anyway?

But for the rich, of course, wealth is not about things, it's about power.

Wealth is being redistributed from poorer to richer.

Between 1983 and 2004, the average wealth of the top 1 percent of households grew by 78 percent, reports Edward Wolff, professor of economics at New York University. The bottom 40 percent lost 59 percent.

In 2004, one out of six households had zero or negative net worth. Nearly one out of three households had less than $10,000 in net worth, including home equity. That's before the mortgage crisis hit. Holly Sklar, ZNet.

And we continue to fight over the crumbs, and blame people in subsidized housing and folks who receive food stamps for our struggles to survive.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Homeless blogs: checking in

The Homeless Guy, Kevin Barbieux, who blogs out of Nashville, is feeling disillusioned about Nashville's street paper, The Contributer, feeling that the paper is actually promoting an anti-homeless agenda. So he's writing the articles that he'd hoped would appear in the new paper.

David Eby is keeping an eye on homelessness and housing policy in Vancouver as the city prepares for the Olympics in Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Displacement and Homelessness blog.

Anya Peters, the Wandering Scribe in the UK, isn't living out of her car. She saw someone buy her book, Abandoned

Chris, the Homeless guy in NYC, is recovering from gall bladder surgery and still staying at a men's shelter. Slowly getting better.

A coyote, a cat and a woman in Wyoming

Check out this great blog about a woman who takes over caring for a ten day old coyote. Great photos. Daily Coyote.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Northerner or Southerner?

Have fun with this little vocabulary test that will tell you how much Southern blood you have in your language.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

What is a storm?

One inch of snow is one inch of snow, it is not a storm.
Two inches of snow is two inches of snow, it is not a storm.
Four inches of snow might be a storm if it is accompanied by fierce winds otherwise it is just four inches of snow.

The hyperbole of our local meteorologists when it comes to any winter precipitation at all destroys their credibility. Do they really think we hardy New Englanders are going to be so concerned by a little snow that we'll have to stay glued to our TVs for the local forecast? No, we think it's a big joke.

Really, our winters are getting milder. I think it must be fifteen years since the winter where it snowed substantially every four or five days, and stayed cold enough for the snow to accumulate, not melt. I remember I just couldn't throw the snow high enough anymore to keep the driveway cleared.

Webster's definition of storm:
.a disturbance of the normal condition of the atmosphere, manifesting itself by winds of unusual force or direction, often accompanied by rain, snow, hail, thunder, and lightning, or flying sand or dust.
2.a heavy fall of rain, snow, or hail, or a violent outbreak of thunder and lightning, unaccompanied by strong winds.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bats Revisited

My sister and her family were coming came over for Thanksgiving and I was gathering together my rarely used serving dishes. One dish I wanted-- broad at the base, narrower at the top-- was on the very top of my cupboard and I had to fetch a stepladder to take it down. I could hear something rattling inside. When I looked in, I saw a small, dessicated brown bat-- just a patch of fur and black twiggy legs and wings. So at least one of the bats that circled my house this summer didn't make it out alive.

I may never be a bat connoisseur but I was saddened to stumble upon a story about a colony of rare fruit bats almost totally wiped out by armed "sportsmen" in Cyprus. Eventually I found a site in Australia, the Tolga Bat Hospital. The pictures are from their site.

Saturday morning

Got up grumbling about my chilly apartment then grumbled some more when I had to go out in my rattletrap, slow to heat up car but about five blocks from home and three blocks from the market near my house, I saw a woman and her three children, one in a stroller, all bundled up and walking home with grocery bags. Jeez, at least I have a car, I thought.

Wild winds blew oak leaves across the road-- when I'd stop for a red light a whole cavalcade would dash from one side of the road to the other. Oaks are always the last leaves to fall. A day like today, I consider the earth's housecleaning weather.

At the traffic lights at Bay and Berkshire, I glanced over towards the old Friendly's (now a Chinese restaurant) and there was a man with a kitchen broom attempting to sweep the parking lot clear of leaves and the slender threads of snow!-- an impossible task given the wind. He'd sweep to the north and the leaves would blow in from the south.

That has to be the dumbest thing I've ever seen, I thought, but then I glanced to my left at the other car waiting for the lights and saw that it was a spanking new, cherry red hum vee-like vehicle with a price sticker in the window. No, that's the dumbest thing, I thought. The broom guy is just a working joe trying to make a few bucks. The people in the humvee are separated from reality.

A little ways down the road, a red-tailed hawk flew by me. I hope the day never comes when I don't think it's worthwhile to watch a hawk when I can. Good omen. Go home and be grateful.