My Response To An On-line Article Disparaging My Homeless Advocacy
A ladyfriend from New Jersey called me on Sunday, December 19th because she was bothered by a particular article in the Huffington Post entitled "Food or Facebook for America's Homeless?" and written by James Richardson. She'd called me several days earlier to tell me that about two-thirds of the commenters on the Washington Post blog were saying negative, even ignorant, things about me. (I've been too busy to check the site.) But she found this article to be particularly bothersome. I presume, after having read it, that it is the intelligent manner in which it was written that made it so bothersome. (Writing intelligently gives one more credibility than making crass, uninformed remarks does.) So, though I had much work to do, I saw fit to respond to this article immediately.
Oddly enough, James Richardson who despises my use of the internet to advocate for the homeless has given me another reason to use it -- so that I can write this article in response to his article. However, I must emphasize the fact that I respect his intelligence and that I don't choose to have an adversial relationship with him. I have instead come to see this as a teachable moment. And being that this exchange is taking place on-line, it affords me the ability to do public education on the issue of homelessness -- thanks to James.
First of all, James, I am not a "recoverING crack cocaine addict". I am fully "recoverED". furthermore, I didn't go to NA or any government-subsidized drug program. I quit cold-turkey on the morning of August 1st, 2005 and haven't used since. And, for what it's worth to you, homeless people who felt alienated by me due to their own erroneous assumptions that I was holier-than-thou have become more comfortable around me. Just for the record, I don't buy into that lifelong "recovering addict" mentality that keeps people going to NA/AA years after having quit. My guess is that such thinking only serves to help NA/AA justify its continued existence and enables it to receive an infinite stream of funding. (If you want to end wasteful spending, start there.)
You were right about me receiving e-mail alerts on press mentions of my name, though I'm not so sure that I'm the only homeless man in America that does. And yes this one DID register.
James, I commend you for quoting me properly when you said that I "refuse to accept any job that might interfere with my on-line advocacy" Others have misquoted me by saying that I refuse to accept any job, which I've NEVER said. I might add though that my homeless advocacy is not entirely on-line -- and never could be. I go to many meetings, rallies, protests and other events. I speak to various high school, college and church groups about homelessness -- some through the National Coalition for the Homeless and some as an individual. I converse with various homeless people, so as to hear their concerns and communicate them to government and/or other agencies. I am presently working through STREATS.TV to create a job-training program for DC's homeless. I work with other homeless advocates to find permanent solutions to homelessness. I'm also part of a Marxist study group where we discuss Karl Marx's social theory and analysis of society (though I'm not an atheist). If I never got away from the computer, I wouldn't have anything to write about. That's not to speak of the fact that you obviously spend a considerable amount of time on the internet.
You are right about many people liking me. And they'll like me all the more when I'm through responding to you. But consider why it is that they like me. Here's a quick recap of events. On March 5th, 2009 Michelle Obama visited the homeless at Miriam's Kitchen here in DC. A homeless man photographed her using his camera phone while someone else photographed him. The latter photo was posted in blogs with people asking (rather ignorantly I might add) why someone who can afford a camera phone can't afford to pay rent. This began a media frenzy about the homeless using technology: cell phones, e-mail, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and much more. A Dept. of Labor employee put that photo and an offensive caption in his work e-mail (which wasn't very smart). My fellow homeless advocate Steve Thomas sent it to the man's superiors at DOL, stating that he didn't want the man fired but would rather develop a working relationship with DOL. STREATS (of which I am part) then began to work with DOL to create a job-training program for DC's homeless. Then the Washington Post article came out on December 13th, 2010. So, Michelle visiting the homeless led to people being fascinated with a homeless person's ability to use technology (as if being homeless makes one brainless). That led to an effort to create a job-training program for DC's homeless -- which continues to this day.
I personally was part of the media frenzy around homeless people using technology. That metamorphosed into people being awe-stricken by the fact that a homeless person can see beyond his own problems so as to advocate for others. (See my June 12th, 2009 appearance on CNN.) Then, two Washington Post reporters who'd interviewed me in the past -- Petula Dvorak and Marc Fisher -- told a Wash Po intern named Nathan Rott about the fact that I had over 4,500 Facebook friends, thus the profile. That said, my tendency to help others in spite of my own problems is quite inspiring to many. (Let that be a lesson to you.)
James, you described the homeless as "an otherwise silent, underserved community" -- and rightly so. Maybe now you can begin to understand why I am so passionate about advocating for them. And yes I did deliver an urgent call to action to my on-line supporters to "Demand the City of Gainesville, Florida to Feed All Who Are Hungry". That can be found at Change.org under "Poverty in America". You failed to mention the thrust of the blog post which was to reverse a new city ordinance which only allows St. Francis House to feed 130 meals per day, even though they have the capacity to feed more than twice that number and have done so for years. Furthermore, that was a targeted campaign with no less than three Change.org bloggers writing about it.
James, you quoted me as having said that "Socialism isn't a bad word". You then followed by saying,"But for those with responsibilities beyond updating their various social networks, demanding they be fed to their fill is not an option". I've already indicated that I'm a Theistic Marxist who does much more than sit at a computer. As a matter of fact, I just left MSNBC before sitting down to type this.
As my friend from New Jersey pointed out, you should be more sympathetic toward the poor, having grown up poor. When you mentioned the lack of government aid in rural Georgia during your childhood, were you bragging about your mother's hard work or complaining about the lack of a safety net? You explained that, if your mother had spent her time demanding that there be a social safety net or begging for charity, you would have been hungry and homeless. (But you made no mention of your father.) This is reminiscent of how many homeless people are incapable of searching for jobs due to the inproportionate amount of time that they must spend acquiring their daily sustenance. Many poor people the world over get trapped in poverty because they spend so much time just trying to survive and don'thave time to improve their situation. Can you relate?
As you mention how many government programs exist for the purpose of helping the homeless and/or mentally ill, bear in mind that it was President Reagan who closed many mental institutions, increasing the homeless population exponentially. This helps to make the point that certain segments of the population are always going to need some level of government assistance -- be it in a mental hospital or homeless shelter. It's like squeezing one end of a balloon. The air doesn't go away; it just moves to the other end. And so, Reagan simply shifted the problem -- and increased the cost of solving it. You should also remember that many government programs only maintain homelessness, rather than ending it.
James, I'd have you to know that the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) -- the shelter where I presently reside -- is a non-profit that is run by volunteers. Though it is located in a building that Reagan signed over to the DC government after a long fight with the homeless community, neither the city nor the federal government pay its operating expenses. Also, I use money I earned to pay $58.30/month for my Virgin Mobile phone ($49.99/mo. + tax for unlimited, anytime minutes and $5.00/mo. + tax for up to 1,000 texts). I own a Toshiba Notebook (small laptop) which was a gift. I often go to Starbucks and BUY a coffee before sitting down to use their wi'fi. Aside from that I use the computers at the Library of Congress or the DC Public libraries, which are free and available to the public -- not just the homeless.
I have several reasons for not working for an established organization. The homeless (myself included) have many barriers to employment which I'll address in another blog post/article/FB note. I should also point out that, when an intelligent man has a poor work history and/or checkered past, he sometimes begins to fight for the underprivileged because it is one of the few options that will make use of his talents. It behooves people like yourself, James, who would rather not see me speak up for the underserved to ensure that gifted people can always find work, as this might pull them away from standing up for the poor. Nonetheless, social justice is a good thing. You seem to understand the barriers being faced by the poor and the homeless who try to rise above their circumstances. But you also seem to be adverse to the idea of me helping them.
I won't stop until we've ushered in a more just system.