Showing posts with label homelessness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homelessness. Show all posts

01 February, 2019

Your Eight Cups Runneth Over - The Annual Count


It is this - that everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified. That's what I want to say. Don't you forget that. Whatever happens, don't you dare let yourself forget. ~ Sherwood Anderson

Eight of Cups
In my 20's and through most of my 30's the tarot card I associated myself with the most was the Eight of Cups. It cropped up a lot in readings, though in different contexts, which -- if you put any credence in that sort of thing -- can change the meaning. It's a card full of disappointments, abandonments, desertions, and disappointments. Cups, as a suit, are associated with water, and, being a Pisces (the most waterful of all the water signs), this appealed to me on multiple levels. Not that I ascribe any particular magic to the cards; if nothing else, I think they tend to reflect the energy of the person that uses them and can sometimes provide murky, if not downright fortune cookie-like guidance to wrangling questions that are probably better answered by detachment rather than focus.

Lately, though, The Hanged Man is more in my thoughts. And while I haven't indulged in tarot in more than 20 years, I still find the metaphors meaningful in a sort meta-psychological way. Like many literature majors in recovery, I am a symbol junkie. and because I'm a symbol junkie I know symbolism can be found anywhere, and nowhere -- other than literature, tarot decks, and The Freemasons -- can more symbolism be found than in government. The same is true of the annual count.

The annual count is an exercise in futility; for any number of reasons the count is always inaccurate, and generally used as a PR device by the city to trumpet their "responsible" stewardship of city resources. But like most forms of futility, it must be carried out anyway. Local media often frames it as a huge undertaking done by the Coalition to better assess and provide resources to the homeless community. The Coalition doesn't necessarily discourage this view, though it doesn't endorse it, either. At the Wednesday night training, for example, the facilitator stated that the reason for the count was so that the Coalition could have up-to-date numbers for it's annual grant application. This annual grant is worth $10 million.

So, basically, as a volunteer for the count, I was there basically as an unpaid census worker.  Unpaid... but they WERE going to provide breakfast after it was finished.

I went out on a team of 4 with Amanda and two other very nice ladies, one of whom is a regular volunteer with the outreach organization I also volunteer with -- an organization that DOES NOT see any of that $10 million.  Our route was a short one, maybe a little over a mile of Bardstown Road. This was an advantage. We would be able o scour a relatively small area pretty thoroughly. This was also an advantage, because it's a route Amanda and I went out on often on weekly outreach... so it's one we already knew. This would help not only because of time -- we pretty much had from 4am to 6am -- but because the overnight/early morning temperature was -5.

Amanda and I decided it was best to leapfrog the area. Park, walk a few blocks and look for people, then circle back to the car and drive up to the furthest point we walked. This would keep up near the car, and allow us to keep warm. Our partners appreciated our plan, though initially thought we were being a little silly since our route was  "only about mile."

We made our way up and back, up and back, and up and back. Walking in the cold reminded me of my time on the street in Chicago -- which makes me both love and fear that city with a symbolic and mystical equity. Other than the 4am staff at Cafe 360 and one guy who was couch surfing (so, by definition of the grant, not technically homeless) we didn't run into anyone. I was glad, too. And so was Amanda. It was too cold and that stretch of Bardstown Road is too far from resources to be there in that weather. But we also knew that if anyone was on Bardstown Road, it was not going to be in that area, which is all business and residential. Our section from Bonnycastle to Winter Ave was a high traffic area during the day and prime panhandling real estate; but even the homeless don't always live where they work.

We are, after all, a nation of commuters.

After we finished and went back to the hotel, we checked in and left our partners to the provided breakfast -- which, we had already heard, included some very suspect eggs.  Before Amanda took me home and went to work, we had time to grab breakfast at Waffle House where the eggs were not at all questionable and the hash browns were smothered and peppered.

And here I come back to The Hanged Man. Often portrayed as a willing sacrifice, occasionally
portrayed as Judas, The Hanged Man is also associated with Christ and with Odin, both of whom, according to the stories, hung themselves on trees -- one as a sacrifice for all mankind and the other to gain all knowledge and wisdom. I think of The Hanged Man as maybe the most overlooked, most misunderstood card in the tarot deck that, along with the Death Card, have been woefully abused by movie and television scribblers for years. I think of The Hanged Man and I wonder, as the numbers are compiled and fed into the Public Relations machine with the same efficiency that they'll be plugged into the Coalition's annual grant application, who is being betrayed, who is being sacrificed and what wisdom is being gained.





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04 January, 2019

from Field Notes: 3 Jan 2019 - Those Isaiah Moments

I did it to myself. I should know better than to not ask more questions. When a last minute metro council meeting to talk about the city's half million dollar PR band aid came up, I should have known better. No one tossed me under a bus. No one tried to surprise me. No one but me, anyway. Me and my Isaiah moments. Me and my  "Here am I - send me" arrogance that put me on a dais with the mayor, two councilpeople and the usual suspects for a grand public circle jerk featuring Mayor Greg Fischer and Wayside Mission's Dominatrix-in-Chief, Nina Moseley
.
Though to be fair, it may be not appropriate to call it a circle jerk. The Victorians had a name for it. The medical cure was  "Hysterical Paroxysm" - or, an orgasm achieved when a (male) doctor administered a "pelvic massage" to a female patient suffering from "hysteria" (being human.)

It was my Isaiah moment, my urge to Do Something that did this to me.

I was mentally prepared for a committee meeting. This is a scenario in which I am very comfortable speaking. Public meetings, metro council, committee, open mics, performances -- I'm very comfortable. The easiest place to hide is in front and up on a stage, because no one actually looks at you when you're in the spotlight. People see all the things they carry with them, all the things they expect. The most invisible spot in any room is in the spotlight.

And that, Dear Friends and Readers, is where I thrive, most of the time. In the land of ghosts.

But it was my vanity, my ego, and --more importantly -- my sense of Rightitude that suffered when, at the behest of a councilwoman who is acting like she wants to be mayor, I took to the dais in a show of "solidarity" for the city's new half-million dollar band aid to the homeless situation here in River City.

I was planning for a committee meeting.  What I walked into was one of the mayor's political dog and pony shows.  He spent a good deal of time talking about what great mayor he is and all the good he's done and to make some unnamed (well-deserved, I have to add) digs at Bevin and Trump. Then one well-meaning bureaucrat got up and laid out the details of where the cash is going and two more politicians talked about how much this is going to help. 

There were two of us on the dais who were not, in some way or another, directly employed by the city. The other guy was the head of another small homeless outreach organization. When the press asked for one of us to speak to some of the issues, I stepped up... I guess, because, you know. Ego. Vanity. Urge to Do. Whatever. And all of my Isaiah moments came crashing down because I spent the whole time, listening to everyone pat themselves and Nina Moseley, whose homeless shelter is as overrun with abuse of power as it is bedbugs. And when I was done stuttering through an answer to some question about there's absolutely no way the city or any outreach organization can convince people to go inside when they're more afraid of the mold and bedbugs and questionable administration practices than they are the cold.

I said it more diplomatically. Which is to say, stilted. And I was ushered off by the mayor who always knows he knows me but isn't sure how so that Nina Moseley could do her best humble brag because Wayside, (not) inexplicably, is getting the lion's share of the money.

So I there I was, on the dais, trying to be diplomatic, trying to show "solidarity", when, in fact, all I was there for was window dressing so the mayor could try (again) to seal his political legacy, so a councilwoman could gain a little political capital, and so the Queen of Bedbugs could be hand massaged by the Mayor of Louisville.

And yes, it will, as a by-product, help some of the city's homeless community. And what will we have to show for it? Some good programming, a bit more outreach, and a big PR band aid for a boondoggle of what is supposed to be a homeless shelter. 

And what will I have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing but the difficulty I'm having forgiving myself for standing on the dais in some bullshit "show of solidarity" when the offense against my sense of Rightitude was so palpable that at least two different people on the dais noticed. 

What I will I have? My inability to forgive myself because when I did have the opportunity to speak, I did not call for oversight and accountability.

May God forgive me, because I don't know that I can.

All the words in the world
matter nothing if they echo,
fade and forget their own meaning.


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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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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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10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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04 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 1

Trumplandia, Mick Parsons, Dirty Sacred River
Bone thin and tiny even before she tried to fold herself into the air, her eyes were large, dark, and brimming.  She looked young; too young to be living under an underpass or in a camp that is slated for clearing by the city. It was Sunday night and she looked like she needed to be somewhere rushing through homework she'd put off all weekend instead of looking towards one more night in a homeless camp.  Her eyes told me she was almost as scared of being found as she was of whatever led her to where she was at. She hadn't found short term ways to coping -- the shit spice (lately mixed with Fentanyl)  available on the street for 50 cents a hit, or booze, or the needle. The outreach workers who found her said she wasn't alone. That some guy had been hanging around and disappeared when they approached.

I'd seen her some downtown, and she was rarely alone.  Some of the other outreach workers wanted to try and find out if she was, indeed, underage. And even if she wasn't underage, we were all concerned that she was a victim of trafficking... or that if she wasn't then, she would be soon enough. It wasn't just idle. The camp where she was staying has been the root of several reports of what looks like trafficking. But stories aren't proof and proof is hard to come by.

The city's recourse is to clear the camp, which it has started the ball rolling to do. The outreach
Louisville homeless compassionate city not
organization I volunteer with and other small organizations try to work with the Coalition for Homelessness and the city to find them resources, fast track them for housing (if possible) and at least keep in touch with them so that when they move, we can find them.

People who don't know that I do homeless outreach talk about the increase in Louisville's  homeless population. Part of that is due to some recent, temporary, policy changes on the part of the city. The annual clear outs for Derby and the State Fair did not happen this year thanks to a ton of negative press the city garnered for razing a camp with no warning last year. But that sort of thing doesn't last. Politically rooted compassion lasts as about as long as the news cycle -- which here can only bear so much content that verges somewhere near actual news before it implodes under the weight of college sports, and whatever new that falls under the flag shadow of Trumplandia. There are a fair number of people here that want to complain more about bike lanes that aren't really bike lanes and play partisan politics rather than actually fix things... and several of them keep getting elected to Metro Council.

There was no way to prove she wasn't underage, and CPS rarely, if ever, works on a Sunday night anyway. I suppose we could have called LMPD, but it's crap shoot with them. If we get a good cop, they will try and help. If we don't, they'll just slice and dice people's tents and ticket them for littering. We were able to at least get this young woman to agree to go find the resources we pointed her to.

Most of the time, that's the biggest win we get in those situations.


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11 August, 2017

Save me from philanthropy: cultural preservationists versus the martyrs

'...if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing' ~ Michel Foucault


When I was growing up, I was told all I needed to succeed was a pair of bootstraps and the sheer determination to pull my feet up over and behind my shoulders.

You know. Like a double-jointed hooker.

And although no one said it, the fact has always been understood that success in America means being able to face the system that's screwing you rather than taking it face down in a stinky foam pillow.

We put so much store on success -- and by success I mean not having the misfortune of being considered a blight or inconvenience to someone else.

Working in homeless outreach, I've heard it all. A lot of people -- so many that it sometimes causes me to despair when I ponder the future of the human race -- view the homeless as a blight, like aggressive red ants or the ever-increasing clouds of Africanized bees. People on my neighborhood association page regularly put the homeless in the same category as car thieves and drug dealers. Stigmatized as violent criminals, they're treated like a scourge that needs to be gotten rid of.

It doesn't do any good to explain to these preservers of a homogeneous and non-existing (not to mention never-existing) culture who say these things that homelessness is not moral judgement; people have been treating homelessness, poverty, as well as mental and physical disabilities, as a moral judgement for centuries.  The rampant spread of literacy and access to the most recent research in economics, mental illness, addiction, and disease doesn't seem to have any impact on these self-appointed pillars of culture and society.

Then there are the martyrs. They see the homeless and equate them with the sad-eyed animals they see in PETA commercials. It's not that they're any less repulsed. They see a problem that needs to be fixed. They see something broken that needs to be healed. The actual story, the actual reasons, the actual complex details behind someone's homelessness, don't really matter. The complex ball of issues -- economic, psychological, physiological -- don't matter. They read articles about how other cities here and abroad take the homeless and put them in the empty houses. They see this as a solution. Or they want to build more homeless shelters -- having never seen the inside of one themselves.They see themselves as the saving crusaders of the homeless. All they need is a job. All they need is a place to live. All they need is to see their doctor, or their shrink.

The world is full of well-intended and soft-hearted little fascists that would save the homeless-- whether they want to be saved or not-- just to save themselves from the awful inconvenience of having to be reminded, daily, of their existence.

Outreach only works when you embrace the belief that you can't save anyone. If, in the process of serving them, they decide to take it upon themselves to pick themselves up, you are there to lend a hand and help. They are not broken toys that need a little glue and dusty shelf to sit on.

Compassion is a PR word here in Louisville... at least among the elected leaders. The drive is economic and the homeless are treated with derision and apathy as people seek to "solve" the problem of homelessness without increasing funding or improving access to the institutions that over-burdened and underfunded while other organizations (one in particular) get the lion's share of public money to lock the homeless out of the one place most "regular" citizens say they belong -- in a shelter -- while managing to exploit them for profit in the name of "saving them."

At least there are good people here who counter-balance all this cynicism. I meet them all the time, work with them on outreach, hear about them from the folks on the street when I serve. I know they're out there and it gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to do right by our brothers and sisters without the burden of ego and the paternal tendency to believe they can't speak for themselves.

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