Showing posts with label Children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Children. Show all posts

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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03 June, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse) Eugene, Oregon: The Great Lane County Paper Chase

Children must be considered in a divorce -- considered valuable pawns in the nasty legal and financial contest that is about to ensue. -- P. J. O'Rourke

...I never try to protect a society which does not protect me -- indeed, I might add, which generally takes no heed of me except to do me harm... -- Alexandre Dumas

Eugene, Oregon -- Other than being the home of Grindbone brother and friend Noah S. Kaplowitz, his girlfriend Becca, and their kids, has a lot of history tied to it. Once a hotbed for union activity... the Wobblies were active here in the 1920's, as well as in the 1990's and early '00s, when then mayor Jim Torrey called it "the anarchist capital of the United States"... not to mention a regular stop on the Grateful Dead Tour... Eugene is still a city made for wanderers and pilgrims. There are no loitering laws, apparently, which makes it a popular summer location for transients, nomads, and other folks who spend a considerable amount of time on the road. And, as Kap and Becca pointed out, there's a lot social nets for folks in need...state and local housing and food assistance, shelters and employment assistance, and the like. It's also a college town -- which speaks neither well nor badly of it -- which means that not only are there folks who really do live Out and About, but there are legions of kiddies who look like they do.

Don't let the apparently overwhelming amount of humanity here -- say, as opposed to someplace else like Norfolk, Virginia -- fool you. Because apparently the state of Oregon has, over the past couple of years, cut funding to children with special needs -- children like their son Henry, who will need life long perpetual care.

Which is to say: the Powers That Be are doing an effective job of turning people's frustrations against one another instead of having it focused on them... where it belongs.

This is nothing new, of course. Coal companies in Kentucky used racism to slow the formation of unions -- a tactic which is still highly effective in border states like Arizona where it's easier to blame the brown hordes than it is to address socioeconomic inequities created by a  near-fascist state government (that was barely kept in check by former Governor Janet Napolitano. I say barely because the fact that she is a Democrat does not nothing to prove that she was inherently more empathetic to the concerns of others. In fact, that she's a Democrat might actually prove she's more of a hypocrite. At least GOP'ers, Tea Bagger Yahoos, and socially irresponsible Libertarians are honest about not giving a shit. It's not much of a higher ground, really. But I do appreciate the absence of bullshit, even if I can't sell my soul wholesale in order to subscribe the shallow rhetoric.

A lie.
If you're unclear as to how completely fucked the system is, look at Family Court.

Kap's friend James asked him to go to court with him. James was notified 22 hours prior that his ex-wife was taking him to court over custody of their kids. James, who coaches his sons' baseball team, is active in boy scouts, had is generally well thought of by most of the people who know him -- even though he's a loud Milwaukee Prussian and a salesman to boot.

His ex apparently left him for a (recovering) junkie.

Naturally the court system is working double-time to ensure that the children are in the best environment.

Anyone familiar with the well-known objectivity of the legal system knows instinctively what this means:

  1. James is guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proof is on him and not his accuser.
  2. To the court, regardless of common sense, Mom and her junkie BF can provide "a more stable and conducive home environment."

On the outside, the Lane County Juvenile Court Building looks a corporate business park. The only real indication that it isn't is when you walk in and have to empty your pockets for the metal detector. The guard, a retired mall cop who waived people through if they stepped out to smoke, couldn't have been less interested in making sure the building was secure... unless of course, he simply unplugged the detector and advertised free toilet paper.

On the inside, it reminded me slightly of a bad museum. Kids sitting around, waiting to go to court. Grown ups sitting around waiting to find out whether they get to keep their kids or whether they are going to lose them, grown-ups wandering around wondering why they have to outside to smoke. The only art I could find were two badly done murals extolling the moral superiority of whitey and a fatally flawed and watered down historical timeline of the history of slavery. The case worker, who looked like an anorexic 12 year old, was more interested in helping James' ex than in getting a detached picture of the situation.

By the time we got into the court room, two things became clear:

  1. James' ex was playing the system like a skin flute, and
  2. The judge, while she didn't seem to buy any of it, nonetheless, had no choice but to inflict a broken system on a situation where it wasn't necessary.

James' visitation was severely cut and restricted to supervised visitations... which pretty much ruins every plan he made for his kids for the summer. The kids are in the temporary custody of the mother. Apparently because the oldest -- who is 10 -- doesn't want to talk to a shrink -- it means something is wrong. I don't know the details of the situation intimately. But it doesn't take a genius to see that when you have a caseworker who doesn't collect all the facts, a system that will award temporary custody to someone who can cry on command, and a judge who needs to make sure she covers hers and the system's collective asses... all at the expense of the kids ... something is wrong. Somewhere.

We were there along with James' former boss -- who was there to refute a statement by the ex that he was fired because of his anger management problems -- and it all felt so... predictable.  Like every person associated with the system was sleepwalking through the proceedings. The only time the children were brought up directly was when an agreement was made for the first supervised visitation. The court appointed attorney who was supposed to be there to look after the best interests of the children sat and scribbled. The social workers yammered. The judge rolled her eyes. The Court Clerk told me to take my toboggan off.

It was a grand day for American Justice.

03 September, 2011

21 Anno Domini

Ken Parsons, 1955.
The picture I chose of my dad was taken in 1955... 18 years before I was born. Although I have pictures of him from my childhood – the way I remember him – but I like this picture of him more than any of those. This is him in his youth, in his prime. There's a cockiness in his stance that grew into something larger, into a mental and spiritual indefatigably, which lingered, even when his health and his body began to fail him. The stamp on the back of the picture indicates that the picture was taken – or, at any rate, developed – in November of that year in San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I know about my dad being in Texas was that after being in that state with two other friends – he in the Air Force, and one friend each in the Navy and the Army – my dad received a letter from the governor asking him to please never return to the state or risk being incarcerated.

At least, that's the way I remember him telling the story. And while I'm sure that there was probably some exaggeration involved – the men in my family are prone to exaggeration – I have found there's an element of truth in all forms of exaggeration.

Today is the 21st anniversary of his death. Some years it's easier for me to handle than others. This year seems a bit more difficult than I've experienced in a while. Maybe it's because lately I've been acutely aware of his absence. There are times when I still want to ask his advice, still want him to make everything better. I'd ask him what he thinks about my life. Silly, really. I think maybe the reason I care so little about the opinions of other people is because his opinion was always the one that mattered – and in its absence, there is no one who's opinion can act as a substitute.

That he is gone doesn't mean I don't still learn from him. That I can't remember the sound of his voice doesn't mean he still doesn't speak to me. It is the blessing and the curse of children to carry their parents with them, in their bones and in their hearts. The imprint is a permanent one. I continue to learn from him because the core of what I learned continues to apply to my everyday life. He teaches me that being honest counts for more; that convictions are worth standing up for; that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity until they've proven otherwise. He also teaches me that I am not less deserving of respect than others so long as I remember these three things.

I miss you, Dad. Give'em Hell.