[Hpn] Spare change, please:Opinion;by David Wallis-[NY writer];SF Chronicle;10/30/01
Morgan W. Brown
Tue, 30 Oct 2001 11:08:19 -0500
Tuesday, October 30, 2001
San Francisco Chronicle <http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/>
Page A - 17
Spare change, please
[by] David Wallis
ACCORDING TO a study by the Urban Institute released last February, at some
point during the year at least 2.3 million Americans will be homeless. This
shocking number will doubtless rise along with unemployment -- yet another
toxic by-product of the attacks of September 11.
The first order of business for any individual, or society, is self-
preservation. But what distinguishes civilization from barbarism is concern
for others. Since September 11, despite the thugs who terrorize neighbors
who look as if they might be Muslims, Americans have largely rededicated
themselves to racial tolerance: Osama bin Laden's operatives drew no
distinctions between Americans along color lines, and this has led to a new
kind of all-inclusive patriotism. At the same time, many Americans have
reconsidered their opinion of the police: Who will refer to them as "pigs"
We have also showered the victims of September 11 and their families with
charitable donations now approaching $1 billion. We have even engaged in air
drops of food over Afghanistan in an attempt to distinguish between the
innocent inhabitants of that battered land and the mass murderers and their
Taliban henchmen. Now, to demonstrate our capacity for caring in the midst
of horror, we might consider directing some of that compassionate cargo to
places such as Mount Zion Pentecostal Church in Brooklyn. Since September
11, Rev. Henry Price reports a 40 percent rise in "customers" at what was
already a busy food bank.
Those who would turn a blind eye to suffering on the sidewalks because so
many of our resources are earmarked to fighting terrorism should ask
themselves: How can we hope to export American values -- especially justice
-- if we tolerate injustice on our streets?
Since September 11, thousands of Americans experienced, if only temporarily,
the bitter taste of homelessness. Displaced from their homes, they doubled
up with relatives or took refuge in emergency shelters. While most of those
in New York City displaced by the attacks will eventually return home, they
will surely bring with them a new-found sympathy for neighbors who suffer
hardship on a regular basis.
An hour after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, a homeless man
outside of St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village watched an army of
blood donors invade his turf. He wore a Black Beatles T-shirt, olive green
military shorts, and a scruffy black beard. He rested one hand on a cart
packed with his possessions and in the other hand held a beer wrapped in the
"What do you make of all this?" I asked him.
"Today is the only day when I can drink a beer without getting a ticket," he
shot back. "Normally, they look at me like I'm a terrorist."
America must invest in public housing, particularly housing with on-site
social workers and substance-abuse counselors to help the mentally ill and
drug-dependent homeless people. More street people with severe mental
illness should be committed to hospitals. If we must lose some of our civil
liberties in the name of national security, civilized society should no
longer permit the mentally ill to suffer on the streets.
Whether intended or not, President Bush made a powerful argument for a war
on homelessness during a White House news conference Oct. 11: "The evil ones
have sparked an interesting change in America, I think -- a compassion in
our country that is overflowing. I know their intended act was to destroy us
and make us cowards and make us not want to respond. But quite the opposite
has happened -- our nation is united, we are strong, we're compassionate;
neighbors care about neighbors."
David Wallis is a writer in New York.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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