[Hpn] Homeless funding may be Afghanistan war casualty - Baltimore MD USA (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 14 Oct 2001 13:01:18 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.sunspot.net/news/local/bal-md.olesker11oct11.column?coll=bal%2Dhome%2
Dcolumnists
FWD  Baltimore Sun - October 11, 2001

     HOMELESS FUNDING MAY BE CASUALTY OF WAR

     Michael Olesker

THE WAR in Afghanistan reaches cold fingers into American crevices. At City
Hall, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. lifts the telephone and hears
constituents worry: How vulnerable is Baltimore's drinking water? At Boys'
Latin School, where Mitchell teaches history, he hears his students worry:
Will there be a draft? He steps outside City Hall, where homeless people
gather, and has his own worry: What will happen to these lost and vagrant
souls as the nation's resources are increasingly diverted to war?

When Mitchell arrived at City Hall on Monday afternoon, he saw homeless
people gathered at War Memorial Plaza. They're a daily sight there. Now the
weather was getting chilly, and the sky beginning to darken. A woman told
Mitchell she'd just been burned out of her home.

"I need a place to stay," she said. She had bags of clothing with her, the
last remains of a tattered life. "Where can I go?"

Instinctively, Mitchell found himself start to utter a phrase: "Have you
tried Bea Gaddy?"

Then he caught himself, and instead found his eyes welling up. It was too
late now to try Bea. On Tuesday, the city said goodbye to Gaddy, who
devoted much of her life to helping humanity's discards. Mitchell wondered:
Where will they go now?

A decade ago, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, the
economists and great political thinkers coined a promising phrase: peace
dividend. The premise seemed simple: Money previously needed for military
possibilities would now be spent to restore America's neglected and
undernourished communities.

Keiffer Mitchell remembers this. He thinks about it when he drives through
the parts of his councilmanic district, West Baltimore, that resemble
portions of Afghanistan after the missiles have struck. The roughest of the
city's neighborhoods, and the most intransigent of its problems, remain
untouched by any so-called peace dividend. In such areas, the drug traffic
goes unabated, and everything else follows: desperation, street violence,
vacant and decayed housing.

And now the peace dividend, such as it was, disappears.

"All this money we're spending," Mitchell said Tuesday afternoon, returning
to City Hall after Bea Gaddy's funeral. "Billions on weapons and
everything, it trickles down to the local level. How do we replace that
money?"

He's not making a case against American military response - just stating
the obvious, painful fact: The convulsions overseas will force painful
changes at home.

"We have more police protection now," he said, "because we've got officers
working 12-hour shifts. When the [budget] pie is sliced, that means other
agencies will get less money. That means the people these agencies help
will come up short. I got stopped outside Bea Gaddy's funeral. A guy said,
'I need a job.' In good times, they say, 'I need a good city job.' Now they
just say, 'I need a job. I need work.'"

But the jobs are getting tougher to find - anywhere. The airlines were the
first to get hit, but other industries have followed. New York took the
biggest losses - in lives, in physical damage and in economic blows - but
other cities also feel it. Like New York, Baltimore relies heavily on
tourist money. But who's in the mood to vacation when all nerves are frayed?

Keiffer Mitchell sees the nervousness among his Boys' Latin history
students. These are high school kids who will soon sign up with Selective
Service. The country no longer has a draft, but young men still have to
register. Mitchell's students ask: What does this mean?

"They're concerned about the draft, about anthrax, about the effect on
their lives," Mitchell said. "They're asking, 'Are we going to get all the
terrorists?' One kid pointedly said, 'If it's like fighting the drug war,
we're in for a long one.'

"We pulled up the Selective Service Web site and went through it, trying to
sort things out a little bit. It was very quiet. Some of these kids, they
like to cut up in class. But they were very serious about this. It's
sobering to them. One boy said, 'Are we gonna take another hit here? What
can we do?' I said, 'I know it sounds corny, but praying helps. Have faith.
Have faith in each other.'"

There are no fixed answers, because all the questions are new. At City
Hall, Mitchell gets phone calls from constituents: Suddenly, they're
concerned about reservoir filtration systems. Or they're calling about the
draft. Or they're asking about security in the public schools from threats
never previously imagined.

Outside City Hall this week, Mitchell looked at those homeless people
gathered as the temperature dipped and the sky darkened. Everybody at
Gaddy's funeral said lovely things about her. But words fade, and memories
vanish. Mitchell thinks a memorial should be built to Gaddy and placed
outside City Hall where the homeless gather.

She was a helping hand for many going through a difficult season. Now it
gets rougher. The city said goodbye to Bea on Tuesday, and now, in the
widening war, says goodbye to the thing once known as a peace dividend. Say
a prayer, Keiffer Mitchell sometimes suggests. It's the short answer until
something else comes along.

Copyright  2001, The Baltimore Sun

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