[Hpn] Re: Street People

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 07 Feb 2001 15:05:30 -0700

And the award for the most creative re-articulation of the "final solution"
goes to Matt Parkhouse, RN of Colorado Springs.

Seriously, anytime we find ourselves qualifying, judging and sorting "good"
or "deserving" homeless people from "lifestylers" (which itself is a myth
lifted straight from the propaganda of the Heritage Foundation, among
others), we're playing right into the hands of those who feel that homeless
people should enjoy different or fewer civil rights than everyone else, and
that police and jails are the indicated response to this kind of social

Actually, I find the term "street people" pretty damned offensive in itself.
It's kinda reminiscent of "useless bread-gobblers," a favorite euphemism of
Hitler's SS referring to Jews and Gypsies. Labeling, as any propagandist or
semanticist will agree, is the essential first step in disempowering and
scapegoating any group of people.

I posted the article because I feel it's a great example of anti-homeless
propaganda masquerading as "human interest." There's a pretty vicious
quality-of-life campaign currently flourishing in Florida -- targeting
everyone from panhandlers to street paper vendors to Food Not Bombs members
committing the "crime" of feeding hungry people in public. Quality-of-life
campaigns are always supported by local corporate media. It was intended as
a object lesson in contemporary propaganda. I'm sorry I didn't make my
intent in posting the article clear, I certainly didn't mean for it to be a
rallying point for formerly homeless people with latent self-acceptance

It's a given that human beings came into existence in the outdoors,
regardless of whether you believe in evolution or creationism. I find it
pretty ironic that our society judges them or criminalizes them for doing
that today. And if you look at the history of the Mendicant religious orders
and some of the more popular "heresies" of the last millennial era, you will
find that our word "beggar" is derived from "Beghard," which is what folks
commonly called certain religious aesthetes who believed their god would
provide their needs through the kindness of strangers. Most of these
"heretics" died in the inquisition. (Or should I say, the LAST inquisition.
I get the feeling some of GWB's fundamentalist buddies would welcome the
opportunity to dust off the rack and the thumbscrews and start collecting
kindling for the stakes.)

I wish the folks who call themselves "Christians" were as open to the Spirit
of the Beghards today. Someone told me long ago that the only spiritual use
for money was to give it away. When I give a panhandler money, I don't trip
on what they might be using it for because that's really none of my
business. I operate from the idea that they must need it, or they wouldn't
be asking. And how do I know that I wouldn't use the money for drugs or
alcohol if I didn't give it away, anyway?

As for homeless people as "noble victims," I don't know if being a victim
equates to nobility, or if it absolves a person from any responsibility for
their situation, but every poor and homeless person is undeniably a victim
of capitalism, as is every addict (the illegal trade in drugs is the
ultimate expression of capitalist values -- small wonder the war on drugs is
lost), or every person of color trapped in the prison/industrial complex.

What capitalism ultimately does is strip us of our humanity by turning us
into commodities representing profit, whether it's the money the service
provider receives for each shelter bed, the money billed from each hour of
"case-management," or the slave labor we provide through workfare programs
and community service sentences from "homeless courts."

Maybe you've got a problem with some of those "lifestylers" that you know,
Matt. I know homeless people that I cross the street to avoid myself, but if
I don't advocate for those homeless people who also happen to be assholes,
then I don't have any business advocating for ANY homeless people.

Besides, everyone knows what an asshole I can be.

As far as the aesthetics of the photojournalism that accompanied the story
go, we have a saying about that around here:

"Poverty Is Ugly. Ignorance Is Uglier."

You can take that anyway you like, Matt.



> We have our "street people" here in Colorado Springs as well. It is a
> sub-group our providers would prefer to not discuss. In any dialog on
> homelessness however, they NEED to be discussed. They are a minority (perhaps
> 10% to 20% locally) of the diverse group of "the homeless". They are,
> however, VERY visable. Our providers here would prefer the the general
> populace believe that all homeless are "noble victims", especially at fund
> raising time. We hear a lot about the circumstances of homeless families, the
> dis-abled and the those who life has struck down. The people described in
> this article are more what I would call "lifestylers". It isn't a healthy
> lifestyle but for some, it is a chosen one. My values about this: Choosing to
> "live outside" is similar to choosing the Goth lifestyle, the biker
> lifestyle, embracing the drug culture, going Punk or following the Grateful
> Dead. If that's your choice, fine; but don't ask me to support it. HOWEVER,
> if you want to escape the consquenses of the choice and move toward a
> healthier life, helping hands MUST be available. In my opinion, too many
> "homeless programs" are, in reality, "street-life support programs".  By the
> way, if you go to the url provided, you end up at the Newspaper website. The
> photos there, missing from the HPN List email posting are NOT pretty.
> Matt Parkhouse, RN;
> Colorado Springs, CO

chance martin, editor
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