Homelessness Marathon blog

... ending homelessness isn't a matter of charity, but a matter of changing the way our society is structured. -- Homelessness Marathon founder, Jeremy Weir Alderson, aka Nobody.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

homeless sneakers

homeless sneakers

restless thoughts
toss and turn,
without end
deep within
mind, body and soul
whether day or night,
about once again
becoming homeless

knowing the only
place to then call
home 24/7, will be
one pair of badly
worn out sneakers,
long overdue
for replacement

truth be told
however, those foul
footwear are in much
better shape, than the person
who will be barely
surviving inside them

whose remedy
will not be found
just by a new pair,
but within an abode
of their own,
one providing a permanent
roof and shelter,
under which to live
more restfully instead.

by Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier, Vermont
Sunday, June 18, 2006

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Homelessness is having no place to hang your hat

An old My Turn of mine published in the Burlington Free Press years ago (which I had also previously blogged to the North American Homeless News Network blog, here as well as Green Mountain Daily blog, here):

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Not Do The Right Thing?

On January 18th I spoke before the Kansas City Task Force on Homelessness and laid out my vision of what Kansas City (or any city) might do instead of following failed Federal policies. The "White Paper" linked below is a follow-up to that talk, setting out my ideas in print. It may be found at:


Of course, the broadcast invites other opinions, but I am hoping this will be a basis for starting some discussions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

True Dilemmas and Popularity

I usually feel about the obscurity of this blog some admixture of self-pity and relief.  "O' woe is me," I say to myself, "I am sixty and my genius still isn't recognized."   That's not exactly what I think, but who'll blame me for trying to make myself look better?   Yes, I am a pathetic specimen, but I also feel that I am fortunate, because I get to write anything I want without the hassle and constraints that would come with people caring what I say. Just the same, today is a day when I could use a lot of people weighing in with their opinions.  I am facing a decision, and I don't know what I should do.
          Perhaps I have put that too simply, because I am really facing a wending-winding path of decisions that  I don't know how to traverse, but it all begins at the ending of a previous entry, where I mentioned that I might have more to say about this most recent broadcast later.  Well, this is later, and I can tell you that there was a major flaw in the last broadcast, something that absolutely must be corrected, even though, by all accounts, the broadcast went well.   That flaw is that we did not achieve our principle mission.
            Every so often I have to write down the Homelessness Marathon's "Mission" for potential grantors.  It's not something I take too seriously, because our enterprise, like any other, is more of a living, breathing entity than something that can be summed up in a sentence or two.  To me,  formulating a mission statement has a quality about it like taking cash for your children, but on this point I have long since capitulated.
          The mission statement for the Homelessness Marathon goes something like this:  "Our mission is to promote a national dialog about poverty and foster a consensus to address it."  In our last broadcast, we did not do either of those things, so we did not succeed at our mission.  We did, however, achieve other organizational goals.
           From what I've heard, the homeless people involved were happy with the event and with their participation.  We had more affiliates than ever before.  The technical quality of the broadcast was good, and through this broadcast, the door opened to some potential alliances.  That's not to say that there couldn't have been people dissatisfied with what we did, but I haven't actually heard from any.
          I didn't hear from the press either, and there's a lot that may be said about that.  Cass Community said it was using its publicity people to try to interest the press in the broadcast.  Just a month before they had conjured up a TV truck for the opening of their new "Green Gym," the exact same site where we originated our broadcast.  Dennis from WHFR told me that he personally placed calls to the print and broadcast media.  I saw e-mails from the MWRO, forwarding a release I had sent out to two Detroit weeklies.  I, myself, made a couple of attempts to interest publications, and I even had an Op-Ed on the Detroit Free Press's website (http://www.freep.com/article/20100223/OPINION05/100222041/1336/OPINION/Poverty-Is-anyone-listening)  So it is reasonably certain that the media had every reason to be aware we were in town.  They just didn't show up, and the question is, why not and what can we do about it?
           Partly, this lack of interest is anomalous.  We got less attention from the Detroit media than we've ever gotten anywhere before.  But the lack of interest in us is mostly chronic.  We don't usually get much press. 
          Yes, you never really know what impact you had.  I hope we inspired someone somewhere to do something good.  I hope we uplifted a spirit or two.  I hope we put on a show that will be remembered in the annals of broadcasting, but none of those things is our mission.  We're supposed to be promoting a national dialog and fostering a consensus to end poverty.  If we come into an impoverished city and the vast majority of its inhabitants never even know that we were there, we haven't succeeded.
           I must say this outcome plays into the irritating tendency of some people to dismiss us out of hand.  Why shouldn't WDET have thought it was all right to not even answer my letter?   They corrrectly identified me as someone who wouldn't have much of a platform from which to denounce them.  Sure, I could have said anything I wanted on my own show, but the TV and newspapers weren't going to pick any of it up, and they're the real media players in town.  Similarly, if Mitch Albom never responded to my invitation, well, he isn't required to answer every message from every no account crackpot with a radio show.
          And what can I do about it?  Here is where I start to get into trouble.  My first instinct is to get frustrated with the local activists.  In Detroit, they didn't see much reason to make a big deal out of the Marathon.  As a rule, the activists we've worked with have made little effort to get the broadcast noticed.  They have been very helpful with getting homeless people to the site or even providing the site -- Cheri Honkala, then the head of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, and now of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign as well as the Marathon's board -- provided the venue for our first national broadcast (our second broadcast overall).   And activists have been helpful with networking and defining issues.  But they haven't done much to get us noticed.
          No one builds a campaign around our arrival, no one even pickets us, which would, at least, get us publicity, no matter how unpleasant it might be.  It always seemed to me that the activists ought to see possibilities in our arrival, but they don't.  In reality, I don't think the activist community understands much about putting on a show, but I have sought to involve them in it anyway.  I could give a thousand reasons for this, but in the end, it all comes down to limited choices.
          Choice number one is to motivate activists to support us.  This is what I've been trying to do for years, without success.  Paul Boden -- the director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project and also on our board -- told me that organizing is not a matter of doing the same thing tomorrow that didn't work yesterday, and he's right.  I have to give this up, and what makes me really undertand that I have to give it up is realizing that it would be a bad thing if I succeeded.  If I ever want to lead an advocacy group, that is my right, and I may want to do just exactly that someday.  But as long as I am in reportorial mode, I cannot be creating the events I am covering.  And trying to directly motivate activists would make the Homelessness Marathon look manipulative no matter what.  It's just a bad idea, and I should finally recognize it.
          Choice number two is to just keep doing the show without worrying about the impact.  The problem with that is that doing the show is a ton of work, for which I don't get paid, and my main associates get only a tiny sum (this year I paid Michael, our technical director, and Jessica, who could have just about any title she wants, a wopping $500 for their weeks of work, so they, at least, wouldn't lose money on the work they were missing to come to the broadcast).
          Choice number three is to find some other way to bring the Marathon to the public's attention.
          Choice number two is, of course, an acceptable option, and it is not incompatible with choice number three.  When my efforts to get the show noticed fail, I am consoled that I at least did the show, and I feel good about that.  But at the end of the day, what is my strategy for making the dialog of the show a dialog for America?  I wish I knew.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

arriving home

The broadcast is over now.  We were happy that it went well and people made nice comments.  I have a few more things to say about it, but for the moment, I will only report on something I found out about upon my return home.  We live in a rural area, and before I left for Detroit, I bought a new pick-up truck.
          By "new," I mean new to us.  We are a bit more flush these days than we have been before.  We bought our first pick-up off a junkyard lot for $400, and it ran just fine for a while before dying.  This one, a '97 club cab with four-wheel drive, cost $2200 from Clayton, who lives around the corner, does agricultural work, fixes up cars and is a friend.  I had him add-on a four wire towing coupler, and he had a truck cap that more-or-less fit, so the whole thing will come to around $2400.  At that price, you don't ask for a good paint job, though this one is in pretty good shape, bright red with a stripe down in side.  I have reminded everyone that you can pick up women in a truck like that, and Clayton, displaying the local dry wit, reminded me that Ellen could drive the pick-up too.
          Because the truck needed a final brake adjustment, it was to be delivered to me upon my return from Detroit, and I had visions of my new life, tooling around in the bright red pick-up, but the beginning of my new tenure as a well-wheeled country gentleman will have to wait.  A thief struck and stole the muffler and catalytic converter off my soon-to-be truck.  There's been a little rash of that around here.  It is a reminder that you can't even drive around in a showy, high-off-the ground '97 without being a lot better off than some folks who will get under it with a torch for the risks and rewards of stealing its parts.
          We are living in increasingly desperate times, and doing the Marathon never fails to remind me how fortunate I am.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First Thoughts After

The broadcast is over now.  It went reasonably smoothly with few technical glitches and ended with comraderie between those involved.  But the funny thing about doing this is that after months of work and staying up all night to make it happen, I really have no idea how it sounded.  Being a host is not the same as being a listener.  I don't listen to the broadcast in the way that the audience does.  I listen for the verbal cues that permit me to take the broadcast in this direction or that one.  I won't know to think until I review the recordings, which will take a while.  For now, it is enough to have gotten through it and feel okay about what has happened.  I am content.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

nerves, butterflies and what forges iron

In the end, on the night before the broadcast, I am just another guy on the eve of an event.  There are differences, of course, between this and getting ready for battle or for a sporting event or a theatrical performance, but they all have their similarities too.  One of them is being on the verge of something you don't know what it will mean in your life, because you can't know how it will come out.
          In between trying to sew up last details, I think about what is the "this" and what is the "life" in the question of what will this mean to my life?  These days, I am happy in my life, and that helps me along.  And in the background are the people this show is for, which is to say my family, my country and especially its poor.  They are not in the foreground, because just like a soldier or an athlete or an actor, one has to keep ones mind on the task ahead and on maintaining the mental ability to engage it.  But at the same time and at the risk of sounding insufferably sappy, I think that, amidst all the mysteries of the cosmos, love is still the best explanation for a lot of what we do if not all of why we're here..
          As to why, when love is everywhere, there should be such suffering in the world, well, being up late at night may fill you with questions, but it doesn't make you wise.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More On Race

It is a bit peculiar to me to find myself writing about race less than 48 hours before the broadcast.  I think this is an occupational hazard of doing a blog and being a white guy in Detroit.  Detroit is certainly known for more than its economic decline and one of the other things it is known for is its vibrant black culture.  So the idea that I would have an encounter with race doing this work in Detroit is hardly a startling one.  What's more startling -- to me, anyway -- is that this possibility never occurred to me.  Be that as it may, I do actually have a few things to say about race, so I think I may as well say them.
          When I wrote that last post about how the thought that I might have any appeal to a black audience just about made me giggle, I felt like I might be misunderstood.  If anybody is going to not like what I say, I would hope it would at least be the thing I actually said, so I will try to offer here some explanation, whether or not it is actually necessary.  I have had black people in my life, and the way I would summarize those relationships is that, for the most part, they had nothing whatsoever to do with stereotypes.  So when I say I wouldn't think of myself as the kind to be popular with black people, I mean I wouldn't expect myself to be the type to interact with black people in the stereotypical ways white people might be portrayed as interacting with black people or the ways in which white people, themselves, might think they ought to interact.  I would hardly be the first to be involved with black people without trying to act like a black person.  There's lots of people, for instance, who have fallen in love across racial lines when they weren't expecting to, so involvement with another race isn't something you have to be looking for in order to find it.
          Before I go any further down that road, I must mention that this series of happy experiences with black people hasn't let up.  We were on the ropes as far as having any kind of a video webcast was concerned, and all of a sudden, we have a crew of four or five black people working on this.  It is just extraordinarily fortunate that we have them at all, and it is even more extraordinary that everybody seems to like each other.  I will happily throw in a plug for them.  They go by the name of Pulsebeat TV and I just genuinely like them all.  I might add that I haven't actually met anybody I don't like in Detroit, and I've never been accused of being just like Will Rogers.  That's just the way it has worked out here, which is a big reason why this has been a very happy experience.  It's been so happy, that I cant let my fear of a crash landing keep me from enjoying it.    
          Anyway, to get back where I was, I don't know any rap songs and I don't know any black slang, but then, of course, the question arises as to why would anyone think those things should be the hallmarks of a white person being involved with black people?   It is a well-known phenomenon that scads of white youth affect black mannerisms; listen to hip-hop and rap and what not; dress in the latest African-American styles, which the last I knew involved baggy pants, though it has probably moved on long ago; and even walk down the street, whether that street be in Peoria or Pocatello, like they are strolling down 125th.  What are they doing?
          Surely a part of what they're doing, or at least, what some of them are doing, is a genuine tribute to black culture.  It seems like African-Americans have given America half of everything it holds sacred, though that is surely an exaggeration.  So why shouldn't white people focus on this perennial wellspring?
          Just the same, my own theory is that the largest part of it has to do with white guilt.  At a certain age, I think everybody realizes that there are oppressed and oppressors here in the Land of the Free.  America's white children, just like Anne Frank said of everyone, are genuinely good at heart, so they want to identify with the oppressed instead of the oppressor.  The trouble with that, though, is that it's just a phase.  For the most part, after a few years of pretending to be gangstas, they go on to take their places in the existing order without challenging it.  There's nothing new in this.  I personally lived through the shocking revelation that not everyone who ever said "Groovy" in the 60's stayed a hippie.
          Otis Maclay., an engineer and computer person (among other things) who is helping us and is associated with the Pacifica radio network, was sitting in my room last night talking about the importance of the 73rd psalm, so with Michael also listening, I read it from the Gideon Bible in my room.  I recommend it.  Otis is right to focus on that one.  Others psalms and other parts of the Bible have other messages, but this one speaks powerfully about how nothing has changed in the worldly world.  The ways by which people abuse each other certainly haven't.
           I don't think anybody will contradict me when I say that in this society we are all screwed up about race, though I do give America a lot of credit for getting farther in dealing with it than a lot of other countries.  It is actually, I think, one of the few ways in which we still lead the world.  Many people would rightly argue that we have yet many steps to go, and from my own, non-philosophical perspective, I will vouch for the truth of that.  I may be a white guy, but I'm a white guy who regularly visits the poorest parts of town, the soup kitchens, and the shelters, and who once a year, sees before him a line of desperately poor and homeless people.  I can state, as a simple matter of fact, that what I have seen is disproportionately made up of people of color.  So if anybody says we have further to go delving into issues of race in this country, I for one agree,  but even so, I think the focus on race no longer serves us well.
          There have certainly been times when the focus on race was absolutely necessary, none greater than the period leading up the Civil War, when it was impossible to discuss slavery without noting, one way or the other, that the slaves were of African descent.  But that is not where we are now.
          Those for whom the need to resolve the issues posed by race is synonymous with the quest for social justice have found themselves outplayed and trumped by people who would manipulate racial issues to perpetrate injustice.  To my mind, this was never clearer than during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas.  You had Strom Thurmond, a longtime segregationist, standing staunchly behind a black man married to a white woman, something which, in Thurmond's youth, had been a de facto capital offense in his native South Carolina.  Had Thurmond changed his stripes?  No, if he had, he might have given some credence to Anita Hill.
          My own conclusion was that during the Thomas-Hill hearings, you could see the economic skeleton under the flesh of race hatred.  As I see it, the powers that be wanted Thomas because he would do their bidding, and they hid their wolf beneath his black sheep's clothing.  Nonetheless, there were black people who believed and even testified, in so many words, that, ultimately, Clarence Thomas would do the right thing because he was black.  They were wrong.          
          Without Clarence Thomas's vote halting the Florida recount, George W. Bush would not have made it to the presidency, where he launched a war on Iraq under false pretenses with the help of a black National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, and a black Secretary of State, Colin Powel.  If you approve of the war and are a supporter of the Bush Administration, that's your right, but it would be hard to argue that the actions of Thomas, Rice and Powell had anything to do with righting the wrongs of the Middle Passage, no matter that   Thomas invoked the specter of a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks" in accusing anyone who opposed him of racism.
          Today, you cannot discuss racial issues on their own, without explaining why what you are talking about is different from what Thomas, Powel, Rice, and now Michael Steele represent.  And you can't explain that without invoking the issue of class, so as far as I can see, you may as well just invoke the issue of class right from the start.  It is more inclusive -- people are suffering so broadly now that we should be focusing on everyone -- and it is also more precisely targeted on the challenge before us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Detroit for the Broadcast

We are in the thick of it now.   As always, the final stages of preparation for the broadcast are very intense.  We arrived at the broadcast site to find that the phone block was of a type we were unfamiliar with.  So there was some immediate panic and a quick call to the phone company to make sure they could send a repairman out to install the jacks for us.  But after a while, we figured it out, and in the process of doing so, realized we couldn't find two of the lines we had ordered.  So it's a good thing the repair guy is coming, even if we don't need him for the jacks.  But the point is that, in that moment, we were confronted with something that could take down the entire broadcast.  It didn't, but for me, at least, it's a shock to the system, like hearing that the plane your uncle is on might just have crashed and then hearing an hour later that no, it was another plane.
          Immediately after that, my e-mail account crashed, and of course it would only do that right when I am awaiting e-mail confirmation as to whether or not the City of Detroit will send representatives for an on-the-air dialog with the homeless people on site.  The answer to that turned out to be yes, but I only got the e-mail after frantically calling people at my very good ISP until finally the boss took care of it.
          In other words, it's just one shock after another, and I think any event planner will recognize this as a more-or-less normal kind of scenario, although other planners may have a higher percentage of routine events than we ever seem to be able to pull off.  But for all of that, I've been enjoying myself immensely.
          My son, Michael, is our chief engineer.  He has been involved with every broadcast, sleeping outside on the pavement in sympathy with the first one, when he was just thirteen.  Oh well, you know, tomorrow who knows what will be with any of us, but so far, it's been a blast being with him, and I feel like a lucky father to have this event that we can share.
          The people at Cass Community Social Services are incredibly nice, really all of them.  I have kind of given up trying to be something other than a gorilla, at times, but I am striving these days to be a gorilla who can stay in the social preserve. And one of the nice things about being at Cass Community, is that whenever I look my wildest, they have a kindly glint in their eyes like they saw sixteen worse cases before breakfast.
          And I've been having a lot of singular experiences.  Driving to Detroit, for example, I was interviewed twice on one of our affiliates, WRFG in Atlanta.  It wasn't really the most advantageous time for interviews, the first for half an hour and the second for a full hour, but they were trying to help promote the broadcast, I certainly wanted to help them with that, and Michael drove while I was talking on the cell phone.
           As it turned out, the two interviews went extremely well, and for the second one, I was interviewed by three people at once, or maybe there was a fourth, and they really seemed to like the things I was saying, and I really enjoyed talking with them.  What made this more than just a good interview was that WRFG is a community station for a community that is largely African-American.  So it resonated with my performance at the COTS shelter, and it just seemed so funny to me to think of myself as someone who's really down with black people.  I wouldn't describe myself that way in any case, but the thing of it is that I am so pathetically unhip that the mere thought that I might have any appeal to a black audience just about makes me giggle.  I have to add, though, that, if it turned out to be true, I would just think that was great.  Who wouldn't?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More on the Capucin Cash (Holy) Cow

I just spoke to Roy Hoelscher.  He's the man who made the announcement at the DAC meeting that they, the Capucins, would be accepting contributions for Haiti.  He made a mistake, he said regretfully, in terms of the timing of the announcement, because he miscalculated when checks would be arriving.  But be that as it may, the results are in. 
          The soup kitchen serves on the order of 300 every day for breakfast, 500 for lunch and 600 for dinner (what do those numbers, at just one establishment, tell us about Detroit?).   The DAC contributions were mixed with the contributions of other patrons, but the patrons are pretty much in the same social strata.  Some are squatting illegally, some are in shelters that don't serve meals, some have marginal housing and have to save money, and some, maybe at the top of the heap, are people who have been widowed and come more for the companionship.   But even these relatively wealthy widows and widowers are in no condition to be chit-chatting over hors d'oeuvres  and aperitifs at the yachting society were they not otherwise engaged at the soup kitchen.

          Out of this group, the Capucins were able to raise over $800.  I think it is best to provide that figure without commentary.