The World Is Telling U.S. Gov.: "Help Your Homeless and Poor!"
In case you haven't heard or are too dumbfounded to believe it's actually true, many U.S. cities are outlawing kind acts like feeding the homeless and the poor. In Daytona Beach, FL an 86-year old woman was arrested for giving a homeless man $5.00 and a Subway sandwich. In Orlando, FL two dozen Food-Not-Bombs volunteers were arrested for defying an ordinance that only allows groups to obtain two permits per year to feed up to 25 people in the park. In Gainesville, FL St. Francis House which has the capacity to feed 250 people per day has been limited to only feeding 130. In at least one instance, they'd fed 128 people when a woman walked in with her two children. Feeding all of them would have put St. Francis in violation of the meal limit and might have caused them to lose their license to feed ANYONE. They therefore gave the two children large plates with the food piled high so that the mother could get some food off of the children's plates.
in the same year, Florida had three cities to make the National Coalition for the Homeless' List of 10 U.S. Cities that are the meanest to the homeless: Gainesville, Orlando and Sarasota. (I lived in various parts of Florida over the course of twenty years including Gainesville and Orlando.) But Florida is not the only state in the union which is making such laws. Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, PA recently had regulations passed which forbid the feeding of homeless people in public spaces. (He assured housed people in this Youtube video that THEY would still be allowed to eat in the city's parks. Las Vegas, NE led the charge by passing a law that forbade the feeding of indigents in public spaces, that law having now been overturned by the courts. (Other cities have now learned to be less straight-forward and to put on a "Facade of Caring"). Other cities which forbid the feeding of homeless and poor people include Houston, TX and Dallas, TX. Sadly, the list goes on.
Yes, this is happening in the United States of America -- the land of opportunity which the masses flock to for refuge from dire situations in their respective countries of origin. All of this is both ironic and outrageous when you consider the words of Emma Lazarus which appear on our Statue of liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
That's not to speak of the various mandates which scripture gives us to help the poor, with our nation supposedly having been founded on godly principles. We read in Galatians 5:22-23 (KJV): 22 -- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, GOODNESS, faith,23 -- Meekness, temperance: AGAINST SUCH THERE IS NO LAW. (CAPS added for emphasis). There might not have been laws against goodness 2,000 years ago; but, there are now!
Al-Jazeera taped this show on Tuesday, June 26th in which they told the world about how U.S. cities are outlawing a simple act of kindness (often under the guise of caring). But they weren't the first international TV station to take a look at how the U.S. government treats or neglects its homeless; and, I doubt they'll be the last. In November 2010 I was part of this panel discussion which took place on Press TV which comes out of Iran. (I appear at 7:40 but suggest that you watch the entire show.) The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to housing toured seven U.S. cities in 2009 and issued an unfavorable report in 2010. On May 25th, 2012 China issued its scathing report on human rights abuses committed by the U.S. Gov in 2011. All of this just goes to show that the world is watching the U.S. Gov and how it treats its most vulnerable citizens -- and with good reason. After all, our government with its military goes all over the world telling other national governments how to treat THEIR citizens. It's high time that our government began to practice what it preaches.
Americans who advocate for the poor can and should use this international pressure which is being applied to the U.S. Gov as a rallying point which brings them together and causes them to coalesce. We've fallen for the government's age-old ploy of divide and conquer for way too long. They get us fighting over crumbs and then allow that fight to serve as a diversion which causes us not to see or address the real issues -- a failed system of governance and a capitalist state structure that makes the filthy rich even richer and the dirt poor even poorer.
The issue which government has Americans fighting over the most is no doubt the budget for social services. The government announces that it has decreased funds for social services. Then various groups of advocates try to be the first to get funding for their specific cause which may be homeless services, government-subsidized housing, assistance for those living with AIDS, youth programs, employment programs or assistance for returning citizens. And the list goes on. As government funding for such issues decreases and the level of need increases, we end up having more people fighting over a smaller pie. There is a better way.
I recently attended the annual conference of the national Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) during which I was pleased by what I heard about Chicago, IL and Springfield, MA. Whereas advocates for different causes in Washington, DC tend not to collaborate with each other, advocates in Chicago and Springfield have developed umbrella organizations that deal with a myriad of "quality of life" issues ranging from government-subsidized housing to affordable rentals to living wage and affordable health care. They aren't fighting over a small pot of money; but, are advocating together for their local governments to adequately address ALL of the issues. We should hope that their behavior becomes a national trend (and take steps to make that happen).
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the state of Rhode Island which just passed a Homeless Persons' Bill of Rights. This law prohibits discrimination against the homeless people who use public transportation and various public spaces. It also forbids employers to discriminate against homeless people who seek employment. Truth be told, a government program that connects the hard-to-employ to jobs is the best type of social program -- but sadly the most uncommon. Of course, getting a job is not a sure-fire way of getting out of homelessness unless it pays a living wage.
So, the international community has laid the groundwork for a major political assault against the U.S. Gov by calling them out on their treatment and neglect of poor and homeless Americans. Now let us make the most of it by applying pressure from within. Let's coalesce around quality of life issues and do at the federal level what advocates in some cities have begun to do at the local level -- demand that the government address ALL of our issues.
Obama told Congress to "do the math". He was saying that Congress mut raise taxes on the rich in order to support social services. However, Congress should do the math in other ways too. They should make certain that they put the minimum wage and price controls side-by-side and consider them in conjunction with each other so that anyone working 40 hours per week can afford their most basic human needs (without using social services) and have a little money left over.
Let's make the U.S. government help its poor and homeless -- not just the middle class. They were voted into office by people of all classes and should therefore serve people of all classes.
Eric Jonathan Sheptock -- Chairman of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change)
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW, Washington, DC 20001-2003