USA homelessness crisis can't be contained FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 24 Jul 1999 10:53:13 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.kcstar.com:80/item/pages/local.pat,local/3773b1be.716,.html
FWD  Kansas City Star  July 16 1999

     THE CRISIS CAN'T BE CONTAINED

     By Lewis W. Diuguid - Columnist

SEATTLE -- This "Emerald City" wakes up ugly.

   At daybreak the homeless rise from concrete and grassy beds downtown in
this city. I noticed them on an early morning walk last week during the
Unity convention for journalists of color.

   It was before traffic filled highways with commuters and workers lined
up at the many coffee bars that keep this city percolating. The homeless
rose from the feet of a statue of a long-dead chamber of commerce president.

   They rose from the recessed doorways of businesses. They stretched
outside a hotel. They smoked cigarettes and awaited handouts near a food
vendor.

   Seattle is just one of many cities that I've seen wake up ugly. Others
are Kansas City; Atlanta; Tucson, Ariz.; Philadelphia; Washington; San
Francisco; New York; Chicago; San Jose, Calif.; Phoenix; St. Petersburg and
Orlando in Florida; St. Louis; and Los Angeles.

   Homelessness is a national crisis. The 1990 census recorded 228,621
homeless persons. But census officials acknowledge that the population is
undercounted.

   The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates the number
of homeless people on the street or in shelters on any night at 760,000. It
says 4 million people are homeless at some point annually.

   This is the population President Clinton sidestepped last week. He
visited East St. Louis, Ill.; the Mississippi Delta; a poor Hispanic part
of south Phoenix; Watts in the Los Angeles area; and the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation. Clinton wanted to show impoverished places that the U.S.
bullet train of prosperity didn't pick up.

   Clinton's handlers are clever, said the Rev. Stuart E. Whitney,
executive director of reStart Inc., which provides shelter for homeless men
and families in the Kansas City area.

   The Clinton handlers picked stereotypical places of poverty, he said.
The result is a feeling that poverty and homelessness do not exist outside
of these communities. That's the ugliness in the shadows of the people
rising from the street. The grotesque images are fed by classism, neglect
and bad attitudes.

   Whitney also accepts some of the blame in the ugliness of Kansas City's
homeless population figure of 12,000 to 14,000.

   "We do such a good job that there are not a lot of homeless people
visible," Whitney said. "The more we serve, the better we do for the
people, the more the general public thinks there's no problem.

   "We'd like to believe that every day it's getting better and better. For
some folks, it's getting worse and worse."

   Homelessness is caused by cuts in public housing, welfare reform, cuts
in services for people with mental illness, underemployment, domestic
violence and people released from prison with nowhere to go.

   But don't expect homelessness to be an issue in the 2000 presidential
election. "This population doesn't contribute to campaigns, they have very
little clout, and they don't vote," Whitney said.

   Homelessness has become an issue of urban containment. It also has a
face that's changing from mostly white to mostly black and Hispanic.

   Whitney described scenes of employers who pick up homeless whites before
minorities. "The whole fabric of society is so immersed in racism, classism
and sexism," he said.

   That means all of our emerald cities will continue to wake up ugly, and
so will we.

[Lewis Diuguid's column appears Tuesday and Saturday.]

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