StreetSmarts: Keep Them Invisible
I enjoyed Kathy Glasgow's article about StreetSmarts magazine ("Brother, Can You Spare a Byline?" January 7). I read the first issue and found it interesting and well written. How curious, then, was the reported reaction of Lynn Summers, executive director of the Community Partnership for Homeless.
Apparently entrepreneurship, which is the fashionable prescription for every imaginable social ill, is fine for everyone else but beneath the dignity of our cherished homeless. In fact, I think the real objection to StreetSmarts is that both its editorial content and the process of selling it make the homeless more visible. As they look you in the eye and offer you the magazine, you might even notice that they are human beings! This, of course, is anathema to certain interests whose central goal in dealing with the homeless has been, until now, to render them invisible. Until now those interests have had a disproportionate influence.
Were it not for the First Amendment, I think StreetSmarts would already have been suppressed. As it is, however, our insurance agency is thinking about buying an ad. I hope other businesses will join us, and that someday the people who serve the homeless on behalf of our community will come to appreciate the value of the publication.
StreetSmarts: Keep Them Poor
Thank you for Kathy Glasgow's great article on the obstacles to helping the homeless. It was well written and very articulate. Publishers Frank Kaiser and Carolyn Blair are heroes in their own right. The county's Homeless Trust, on the other hand, is a freaking menace.
I would like to believe that the title "executive director" does not always mean "blood-sucking obstructionist" when it comes to charitable organizations, but it certainly looks as though Lynn Summers wants homeless people to be as irretrievably poor as possible for as long as possible. The only reason I can see why someone would object to giving human beings a hand up and out of a humiliating situation is that this someone gets either gratification from others' suffering or some kind of profit. In either case it's time for some new voices and new solutions.
If all Kaiser and Blair do for the homeless is give them a possibility of recovery, then why not extend that hope to those who need it most? Bravo, New Times! Thanks for giving them a voice.
StreetSmarts: Keep Them Homeless
I thoroughly enjoyed the first edition of StreetSmarts when I was visiting Miami and was happy to pay the small price to help the homeless. What happened to free enterprise? This gives the street person an incredible opportunity to begin a job to help get off the streets. It seems to me Miami-Dade County wants the homeless to stay right where they are: living on the streets.
There will always be poor people, but if we can help a few of them to pursue a better life for just a few cents, I am all for it. Frank Kaiser and Carolyn Blair are trying to give these people an opportunity to survive.
Judy K. Vosburg
StreetSmarts: Why Not Try Something New?
I am writing in support of the StreetSmarts initiative of Frank Kaiser and Carolyn Blair and against the quick criticism of it by Lynn Summers, executive director of the Community Partnership for Homeless.
I am surprised that a public official who is in such a prominent position in the fight against homelessness -- the same one who is managing the two largest emergency shelters in Miami-Dade County -- would dismiss a nationwide experience of empowerment as being not "good for people" and not being any "different from panhandling."
In case Ms. Summers is unaware, the concept being implemented by Mr. Kaiser and Ms. Blair already has been successfully undertaken in other American cities, as well as in Canada and Europe. Furthermore if we really want the problem solved, we should welcome different approaches rather than boycotting them. With new welfare-to-work policies demanding innovative responses, Lynn Summers's attitude shows little spirit for creative ventures to tackle social issues.
Considering the trend of decreasing funds for social needs, I wonder what alternatives we will be using in the years to come if we do not experiment now with new ones, or if we characterize as exploitation the few new initiatives in Miami-Dade on behalf of our homeless. Lynn, please reconsider.
StreetSmarts: Better a Hand Up Than a Handout
I support the idea of a magazine like StreetSmarts. I think it's a good step in helping the homeless who want to start (or return to) doing something productive instead of simply begging for money. It can help develop self-esteem, a proper work ethic, and ultimately lead to a real job.
As a community we need to pull together to encourage programs that teach the homeless to help themselves. It's a far better alternative than simply supporting a welfare mentality, which in essence teaches nothing more then expecting a handout instead of a helpful hand up.
StreetSmarts: Freedom Is Not a Disability
Kathy Glasgow's article about the struggling new publication StreetSmarts was very informative regarding the success of street papers in boosting some homeless people's self-esteem by allowing them to earn money. It also revealed a lack of understanding within established homeless organizations. I was particularly put off by the narrow views expressed by Lynn Summers.
She doesn't think selling papers for a few bucks is good for homeless people, and that "it's exploiting the condition of homelessness." According to the article, she admits she "can see some value in joining in some initiative because homeless people tend to be so remote, isolated, and cut off." She wonders if there aren't other ways to provide that joining experience, but she does not offer any better alternatives. Why doesn't she support this effort in its ability to help some homeless people who can benefit from the minimal structure involved in selling street papers?
I have had conversations with people living on the streets and have met some who have a pretty good grasp of their situation. I've even talked to some who see certain homeless communities such as Tent City, a "safe zone" in Fort Lauderdale, as a kind of interactive therapy for those who are on the streets because of substance abuse or mental problems. This successful experiment dealing with the homeless is about to close because a more program-oriented homeless assistance center is opening. The new center, however, will not deal with all the homeless, just those who fit its qualifications, dispersing the rest back to the streets to become "remote, isolated, and cut off" from their safe zone community.
This is the mindset of official homeless organizations that annoys me. Their whole focus is to control the homeless and push them into molds that may not fit well. It's commendable that those homeless people with the wherewithal to get back on their feet and into mainstream society are being helped, but most of the people are going to remain homeless (or incarcerated against their will). They will not become mentally stable, will not give up booze or dope, will not get it together to hold a regular job no matter how many social do-gooders pester them. This is reality. Sorry if it doesn't fit into the master plan of helping the homeless.
Some people can't compromise and live by the restrictive rules we working stiffs do. Some people can't put up with 40 hours a week of bullshit from a supervisor. For whatever reasons, they have dropped out of mainstream culture. Perhaps the best that society can do is show a little tolerance for their limitations by displaying a little compassion and charity, and, perhaps, by not viewing freedom as a disability.
So here's an alternative to simply existing and begging. By selling the street paper, those with some ability to work can meet a very important psychological need: to feel worthwhile to themselves and others. This is one of the criteria for good mental balance, along with a sense of community, of belonging, and a sense of freedom or autonomy.
Social workers and programs cannot reach everyone on the streets and until a person realizes his own problem, there is nothing anyone else can do. Selling street papers is just a small step in the self-help journey street people must travel if they want to improve their community standing. It is a shame that the director of the Community Partnership for Homeless cannot see the value in this self-empowerment for some homeless people.
StreetSmarts: The View from the Street
After a number of months spent living on the streets and in shelters, I can tell you that homeless people are not doing much better than StreetSmarts itself. Perhaps it will end up being a welcome voice that currently does not exist.
Frequently I question who the homeless programs are serving. I am often confused by their attitudes and regulations. Even though they might have ex-homeless people working at some of them, I have wondered if it is in the best interest of the homeless, as they [the programs] are frequently rude and nasty and seem to look down on those who are trying to get off the street.
Ask any shelter what their success rate is. Or maybe you shouldn't; the answer most likely won't be straight. Perhaps New Times should ask how many homeless people were kicked out last night because of their proverbial "noncompliance" category. No one knows what that means. It's vaguer than "army intelligence."
I have wondered if the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds most of this, should send in undercover homeless investigators. They might find out more than they want to know.
Please don't think I have no gratitude. I am sure the programs are worth something, but I doubt they have any quality assurance, ethics, or treatment-improvement protocol to follow. If they do, it surely has gone past me. The lack of confidentiality and the comedy of errors are more than I would like to account. But what the heck, it is the homeless person's fault. And of course if we hadn't made the mistake we wouldn't have been in this predicament. Ha! I've wondered how the fuck they ended up working with us.
It blew me away that in the local homeless coalition, unlike the People with AIDS Coalition, does not have one homeless person in it. It should be the Homeless Vendors Coalition. To tell you the truth, I have wondered if they know what the hell they are doing. Years of experience does not qualify anyone if they have been doing it wrong.
Name Withheld by Request
Editor's note: This past Monday Lynn Summers announced her resignation from the Community Partnership for Homeless, having fulfilled the three-year commitment she made when hired.
Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Close Personal Friend of Arthur Jay Harris?
Arthur Jay Harris's article "The Imperfect Murder" (December 17) was the best I have ever read in any publication. It was thorough, objective, and informative. We can only wish that all journalists were like Mr. Harris.
The Untold Truth About Lesbigay History
In reference to Jim DeFede's article "A Day of Reckoning" (December 10), I applaud Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss for finding the intellectual courage to vote for the human rights ordinance.
After reading the letters from readers in response to the article, I almost decided not to write this, but when I read the opinion of an openly gay attorney in a recent issue of Miamigo magazine agreeing with Commissioner Moss that gays have not suffered the same kind of inhumane treatment as blacks, I was so infuriated I had to respond to this uneducated viewpoint.
If American schools had encouraged Commissioner Moss to study the history of gay America the way many American schools now encourage students to study African-American slavery or the Jewish Holocaust, then perhaps he and others might begin to understand the inaccuracy of his statements.
When Moss says "... the gay community has not experienced the kind of insidious, inhuman, institutional racism ...," the statement implies that the gay community has not earned, or is less deserving of, protection equal to African Americans because gays have not suffered comparably.
If one makes an effort to look at just a few examples from documented gay and lesbian history, one would begin to see a similar history of discrimination. For example, consider the following:
1) Does anyone recall how Florida investigated teachers during the Fifties and Sixties and forced them to resign or terminated them? The state has yet to release the files for public inspection.
2) The U.S. government still zealously rids its military ranks of anyone who is exposed as being gay. (Certainly very humane, I guess, and not institutional?)
3) Prior to groundbreaking research in the social sciences that clearly showed homosexuality was not an illness, what about the thousands upon thousands of gay people who were driven to suicide or imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals right here in America?
Unfortunately one is likely to conclude that the history of the gay and lesbian community has been deliberately omitted or altered by American historians. Even among American colleges today, only a small portion offer courses in lesbigay history. Yet in 1998, when noted gay activist/writer Larry Kramer offered millions of dollars for an Ivy League university to establish a professorship in lesbigay studies, he was turned down. What is American academia so afraid of discovering?
It is particularly disturbing to see gay people acquiescing to the Moss viewpoint. But then, it is understandable when, in effect, one has been told by American society that one has no respectable history, which is a lie.
I will not allow people like Dennis Moss to dismiss or dishonor the remarkable history of survival by my lesbian and gay ancestors, who suffered and died from the kinds of "insidious, inhuman, and institutional" discrimination that has been denied placement in American history books.
Before a person makes an uninformed statement proclaiming that his minority's history is not comparable in suffering to another minority's suffering, he needs to make a serious effort to educate himself.
If It's Good Enough for Cuba, It's Good Enough for Dade
I was moved by Jim DeFede's article and would like to thank all the county commissioners who took the time to study this very important issue. It is not about special powers, as some would say, but rather about rights. We all should know how important it is to preserve such rights for our generation and future generations.
I was especially shocked to read about the Cuban-American commissioners who voted against the ordinance. How can they preach about human rights in Cuba when they won't protect those rights here in their own communities? As a Cuban American, I am ashamed of them. But let me thank Bruno Barreiro and Jimmy Morales for supporting and voting in favor of the ordinance. It was not a difficult decision. It was the right one. Hooray for Katy Sorenson!
Raisa P. Fernandez
And We Quote: "Miriam Alonso's Foolishness"
Thanks for your excellent coverage of the gay rights ordinance. After hours spent as a volunteer for SAVE Dade last year, I was thrilled by the commission's vote.
My heart beat with excitement as I read Jim DeFede's column to my partner Michael. We laughed over Miriam Alonso's foolishness, and I was emotionally touched by the description of the commission chamber after Dennis Moss's speech and vote. If only we could have been there! Thanks again for bringing us inside.
Another Transcontinental Vote for Katy
I just finished reading Jim DeFede's "A Day of Reckoning." What a well-written piece! I live in California and a friend faxed me the article as I have an interest in gay rights. This was a major victory in a season of defeats.
I appreciated knowing the behind-the-scenes machinations of the commissioners and how the measure passed by a seven-to-six vote. The superhero in all this seems to be Commissioner Katy Sorenson. What a principled lady! This woman should be a governor or senator. And Dennis Moss, in his own way, is also a hero. He put politics aside and voted from his heart.
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Jim DeFede should keep reporting and writing. There are many audiences outside Miami who read his articles. I'm sure the Christian Coalition is monitoring him too!
David E. Bedri
Palo Alto, California
DeFede + County Commission = Boom!
Personally I think using Jim DeFede to do stories on hypocrisy and lapses in ethical judgment by county commissioners is like bass- fishing with high explosives. Yes, it gets the job done. But hey, where's the sport?