Sunday, April 4, 2010
TIM PAWLENTY AND THE HOMELESS
Happy Easter, everybody. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a nice full dinner with all the trimmings today, let each and every one of us count our blessings. For there are many in this country, due to this Great Recession, mental or physical infirmity, or the uncaring and unproductive attitudes and actions of cold-hearted, greedy corporate executives or self-centered politicians, who will be having a horrible day today, filled with absolutely needless hunger, frustration, and insecurity.
This is the second week in a row I am featuring a timely and relevant OpEd piece by the Minneapolis Star Tribune's fabulous writer Nick Coleman. He makes a sensible argument on behalf of our nation's growing number of homeless for ambitious self-serving politicians like Tim Pawlenty to stay at home and do their job instead of running around the country attempting to further their careers. The piece speaks for itself, but at its end, below, I will add some additional thoughts in bold.
NICK COLEMAN: AN ARGUMENT ON BEHALF OF THE HOMELESS
Their ranks are growing -- and it's not because of choices they've made.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 4, 2010
Whenever I write about homelessness, I get avalanches of comments blaming the homeless for their situation. The homeless, I hear, "have made bad choices."
Although research shows that most of the problem is due to such things as lack of medical care, untreated mental illness and joblessness, it is true that some very bad choices have been made. But not by the poor. By the rich, by the powerful, and by the politicians whose policies, heartless budget-cutting and blind eye to the effects of their decisions have sent the numbers of needy people soaring.
Gov. AbsenTee-PAW, Tim Pawlenty, has been out of the state 41 percent of the time (it may be more) since the Legislature opened, according to a story last week from Minnesota Public Radio. The governor argues that he doesn't have to hang around because he has finished his chores while the stupid Legislature is still yammering. But there is more to being governor than babysitting 201 lawmakers, and Minnesota needs someone who will stay in the cockpit.
Trying to stem the growing tide of homelessness is just one of many worthy obligations that might merit the full attention of our state's wandering leader.
Back in the flush economy of his early years in the governor's office, Pawlenty seemed to be a passionate advocate for the homeless. In 2004, the second year of his first term, he even unveiled an ambitious plan to "end" long-term homelessness in the state by 2010. It hasn't worked. He isn't even trying anymore.
Pawlenty blames the recession, but the recession didn't start until the end of 2008. The number of homeless in Minnesota had stagnated at between 7,000 and 8,000 for years, but last year, it surged by 22 percent, to 9,500.
The governor's crusade to end homelessness has withered in proportion to the expansion of his national ambitions. With severe cuts to social services and welfare, billions in unallotments and his torpedoing of the General Assistance Medical Care program (forcing a rescue by DFLers who settled for an inferior replacement program), Pawlenty has worsened many of the problems that lead to homelessness.
And if it weren't for millions in stimulus money from the Obama administration (which Pawlenty has derided) to keep more people from becoming homeless as they lose their jobs and their homes, the problem would be far worse. Tim Pawlenty owes Barack Obama a thank-you note, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
On Thursday, the first day of April, the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul was crowded. That was a bad sign, because the first day of the month is normally quiet at social-service centers, a day when Social Security and other assistance payments arrive and the poor temporarily have money in their pockets. But there are no "quiet" days anymore. The center is constantly jammed, with 250 people a night sleeping on floor mats and 500 meals being served a day.
Over in a corner that is called "the 'hood" by some of the clients who sit and chat while waiting for medical assistance or help trying to find housing, a guy named Randy Winn marveled at his fate. Winn, 44, worked in a butcher shop until it closed in December and eventually lost his apartment.
"This is totally brand-new to me," he said, looking around the bustling shelter. "I've looked for work at a lot of places, but they all tell me they're sizing down, not hiring. I'm very versatile at work, but there is nothing for me and, every day, it seems like this place fills up more and more. Wow, what a change of life!"
Life is changing for all of the homeless. For the worse.
More are children (3,200, according to the Wilder Foundation); fewer have jobs of any kind (only one out of five; half as many as a decade ago); four out of 10 were evicted from their last home. Almost half suffer from mental illness; half have chronic (and often untreated) health problems; 62 percent are minorities.
You may be able to ignore this if you are traipsing around the country running for president. But it's harder if you live here.
Growing homelessness, says Becky Lentz, communications director for Catholic Charities, is just one troubling symptom of larger problems: A lack of jobs that pay a living wage; a lack of accessible and affordable health care; a lack of affordable housing convenient to public transit; the persistent effects of racism, poverty and neglect.
"Homelessness is not going away," Lentz says. "It's not getting better. These are people who we've failed as a society."
So. Do you want to blame homelessness on bad choices? Be my guest: There have been a lot of bad choices. But be fair: Let's start at the top.
Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In light of the gigantically huge amount of wealth held by the abysmally small number of people in this country, there is no excuse for ANYBODY who is a citizen of this nation to be homeless, hungry, or without health insurance. And yet, those numbers continue to rise. That is indefensible.
We look in horror and wonderment at the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. We express amazement that so many German citizens could have stood by idly, allowing Adolf Hitler and his followers to selectively round up, confine, and murder millions of innocent Jews and political opponents. We question how a civilized people could allow such a thing.
I would suggest that homelessness and poverty is the new concentration camp of millions of OUR OWN citizens, right here and right now, TODAY! True, we have no modern-day Gestapo rounding people up and throwing them onto the streets to die. But we do have millions of innocent citizens who are languishing in substandard conditions due to foreclosure, unemployment, and lack of proper health care. They have been pushed onto our streets by the greed of irresponsible Wall Street bankers and speculators, as well as wealthy corporate CEOs, who have taken billions in TARP bailouts and then turned around and forgot all about, or basically said "go to hell", to all the millions of victims they themselves have created.
ARE WE THAT MUCH MORE CIVILIZED OR HUMANE THAN THE NAZIS, TO ACCEPT AND TOLERATE THIS KIND OF NONSENSE? Think about it, people!
And we have plenty of $174,000-a-year conservative Republican and Blue Dog Democratic congresspersons turning a blind eye and a hostile mouth toward new and needed financial regulation and extended unemployment benefits for many millions of the yet-unemployed. And we have plenty of full-bellied and insensitive conservative Republican and Tea-Party types who support these buffoons. And, of course, we have conservative Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty galavanting across the country trying to become the next President, instead of staying back home and responsibly doing his job and earning his paycheck, taking care of those in his state who desperately need some help.
It would be unfathomable in any country and time except here and now.