12 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 4


Two people in as many days have died on the streets as Louisville settles into the first cold snap of the year. One of them died next to a local homeless shelter that, in theory, provides overnight protection from the elements for the city's homeless.

The first cold snap is hard because no one ever seems to see it coming -- in spite of past precedence. I see this as a fundamentally positive thing about human nature... it's our ability to hope for the best regardless of experience. But when it comes, no matter how much those of us engaged in homeless outreach try and plan for it, it still hits like a steel toe boot to the nuts.

We did a better than average job planning for it this year. I'm not the only one who obsessively watches weather patterns, so between the merry OCD/ grumpy old men in our group and the lovely folks that donate there money and donate supplies for us to pass out every week, we were able to get a few things together.., hand warmers, sternos, some coats and blankets and sleeping bags.

But there are moments in outreach when the wheels and cogs are laid bare and there is nothing to do except embrace the sadness and anger just so you can find more people before the hot meals get too cold and the supply of socks and handwarmers run out.

We've been serving a younger couple on our regular route for a few weeks. He's a more or less fresh out of a detox program. They say they want to get to Florida, closer to family. Last night was a White Flag night here in Louisville, which means the temperature is cold enough that shelters will open up and allow more than the usual number of people in to get out of the dangerous temperatures.

Unless you're on the Permanent Ban List.

And when we mentioned that it might be a good idea to get to a shelter, even it meant being separated (because none of the shelters here have facilities for couples or families, which means that couples are separated and fathers have to sleep in a different space than their wives and children). But he told me that since he was on the permanent ban list, he couldn't go in. Not even on a White Flag night.

As far as I know, this couple made it through the night. But the temperatures this week aren't going get better.

Later that night we met up with other outreach volunteers near a new encampment. Another couple.
They had a tent, at least, but no blankets, no sleeping bags, no kind of heat. And meanwhile, outside of the Wayside Mission on Jefferson Street, people were sleeping on the sidewalks, some without blankets, and a few with no shoes.

There's nothing worse than feeling like you fell short even when you do your best. And even if there wasn't such a thing as a Permanent Ban List that includes White Flag Nights, the fact is there isn't even enough beds for people willing and able to get into the shelters. The number of homeless folks on the street are up and it only breaks into the public conversation as something unsightly that people don't want to see through their NIMBY sunglasses.

There's nothing like the sick brick I get in my stomach when I see someone out on outreach knowing they may not survive the night. There's nothing like the dread of knowing that the odds are someone will find them in the morning, dead.

And someone finds them... anger and sadness doesn't quite cover it. Not by a longshot. And when they're found footsteps from a place that, in theory, should have been able to prevent it

Anger and sadness don't feel like nearly enough.



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05 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Politics and the Phenomenon of Craving






A.A., like any other organization dedicated to a single idea, has it's own mantras and jingoisms. The Serenity Prayer has been co-opted by our culture -- especially the part about asking for courage to accept those things we cannot change, since it pretty much feels like no one has control over anything pretty much all the time. One Day at a Time and  Easy Does It get tossed out at regular intervals by a fairly large cross-section of people -- larger even than the cross-section of people who are among the 10% of people who have that particular allergy to booze that makes us one day either get to a meeting or crawl into a ditch. 

As a culture, we like mantras and jingoisms. They reduce complex ideas  down to sound bites that are easier to chew on. We like to be able reduce our moral, ethical, and spiritual life down to easily marked and remembered catch phrases that will rise above the one-liners advertisers throw at us to get us to buy the Next New Shiny Thing.

And since is a Political Season -- November 6 being an election day -- we have been further bombarded, traumatized, and had our central nervous systems cauterized by political ads. Incumbents who want to keep their jobs. Up and comers who want to unseat the incumbents. And we are being extolled, ONE MORE TIME, that this election, is The Most Important Election of Our Generation.

If you're wondering why I started with Alcoholics Anonymous and led into the election, it's pretty simple. It's what we in A.A. call The Phenomenon of Craving. An alcoholic drinks and the craving kicks in and there is no common sense that will make us stop.  Politics, and the emotional urgency its dealers push on the American people -- nearly all of whom are drunk on one brand of politics or another (that includes the politics of apathy) -- kicks in that Phenomenon of Craving. We can't help ourselves. We drink in that sweet, intoxicating moral urgency and sense of mission that will disappear as soon as the election results are in and we are all, once again, pressed with our individual tyrannies of the present that will drive back into the intoxicating arms of mantras, jingoism, and name-calling -- 

all while the Laughing Boys who are in charge and will most likely continue to be in charge regardless of which political party you hang your hopes on carry on making us hate one another so we're too busy seeing what the hell they're doing. 

Common sense, in both cases, is roundly ignored.

My politics of choice and experience tends to fall somewhere near the Far Left -- though not far enough to swallow every last drop in the bottle. My politics and my world view are probably best described by old radical standard (that fewer and fewer radicals know anymore),  The Internationale:





I've sang The Internationale drunk in a room stock full of well-intended liberals who fantasize about fighting fascists but never will. I've sang The Internationale sober with all the sad passion of Amazing Grace, waiting for God to tell me if I really need to fight, if this cup is really mine, or if I'm just one more vainglorious sap who is hoping for victory against the cyclical tide of historical implosion. I've sang The Internationale in a room full of unionists who barely knew the words and who probably would have refused to sing if they'd known where the song actually comes from. I've sang The Internationale with friends, drunk on bourbon and dizzy on didactic rhetoric -- only one of whom I actually believe could take on the fascists as a personal mission for the Almighty... and woe to them if that ever actually happens. I have sang The Internationale but I have never seen the collective fraternity, community, or egalitarianism it is supposed to represent... certainly not on the Left and never, ever, in all my years (including the ones growing up in the ultra-conservative Rust Belt) on the Right. 

And that is why the Radical Left is losing and why, if they don't rethink strategies that isolate them along ideological lines so tenuous that the lists of enemies is longer than their lists of friends and comrades, they will continue to lose. 

There is no moral urgency to this New Wave Fascism. The sense of inevitability people feel -- and believe me, people on all sides feel it, especially those that cry out against it from every social media corner of the country --  that causes them to call this election one more Most Important Election of Our Generation comes from something much deeper, something more dangerous, and something more profane. 

It springs forth from the shadow heart of us all, the evil that will not die until the last trumpet sounds and against which we have been fighting since man's evolutionary ancestors developed enough cognitive ability to dream darkly and to commit their hands to making those dreams happen.

So drink up, my friends. I'm not saying not to vote. If you still have the right to vote then you should, if for no other reason than to prove the cynics and oligarchs wrong. But Easy Does It. We need to take these days One Day at a Time, but it helps to be on the look out for that hangover. Because in spite of the jingoism, life will march on after this election is in the books.

And.. get to a meeting.

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24 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 3

Letters from Trumplandia
Part of outreach means we end up seeing some the same people over and over. Sometimes we don't see certain folks for a span of time because they went inside, or got sober, or started getting treatment for their mental or addiction issues.  And that's always a good thing. I'm always happy to see our folks, but there's a few that I would be happier to never see again, if only because they need to get off the street for their own safety or health.

But sometimes we don't see people and we feel the dread in the pits of our stomachs.

The area around Wayside Mission is a heavy population area, not just because of the homeless shelter, but because of the large homeless population that lives adjacent to the shelter. Some of them won't go in -- concerns over safety, petty street feuds that spill over or are exacerbated by the shelter's policy of giving some residents the job of policing the others, regardless of their capacity to be able to do so, and the shelter's policy of splitting families --  and some of them can't because of legitimate bans due to violence or drug use that endangers other people.

Amanda and I hadn't served down there in a while because of shifts in the population and changes in the routes over the last year that we hope does a more effective job of serving as many of the community as possible. Historically, people have been run off from the downtown underpasses and around the shelter at three watershed moments here in Louisville: before Derby, before the State Fair, and when cold weather sets in. The motivations for these are different, but not really. The city likes to "clean up" it's image for big money events like Derby and the Fair, and whitewashing the city's homeless community is one way, besides planting more rose bushes and cutting the grass along the highway, that the city does that.

LMPD annually engages in a more focused harassment of the city's homeless at the onset of cold weather, apparently for the benefit of the homeless. By all accounts, the thought is that by putting pressure on the community to move on, the city is helping push them to the shelters or other services.

Mick Parsons, blog, TrumplandiaThis sort of thinking is an example of the staggering disconnect between the bean counters in Metro Council Chambers and reality.

But as the official and unofficial sweeps continue, it never ceases to amaze me who is able to fall through the cracks. This past week, Amanda and I went with the route that currently serves the underpasses as extra support and to make it easier to pass out meals and supplies.

We were also tasked with finding a family that had been in the area the last few weeks -- a couple with two small children. Usually, we serve them in their vehicle, but they have insisted to outreach workers in the past that they go into Wayside at night. This isn't the first time we've heard this, or seen it in practice. The city has very limited resources for homeless families. So when they do go to shelters, families are split up.

This is one of those cavernous niches that the homeless fall into; because even when there aren't any children involved, and even if they can prove they're married, couples are separated -- effectively isolating them from the one person they count on for mutual aid and survival. And while this can sometimes help vulnerable people escape dangerous situations, the families are collateral damage.

We didn't find the family. Their vehicle was not even parked out front, in spite of the fact that it was spotted earlier that afternoon when the kids were riding their bikes on the street. If we had seen their vehicle, that would have meant they were at least in the shelter waiting room before the staff at Wayside split them up for the night. Because it wasn't there, there is no telling where they were on a night when the overnight temperatures were going to reach freezing.

Sometimes it's who you don't see that gets to you.

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