Tag Archives: Homelessness

Rescue Worthiness


The local 24-hour news coverage has ceased and regularly scheduled programming has resumed. Field reporters are back to their irregular but predictable sleep schedules. The discerning viewer will notice that reporter and reader’s roots have been touched up and in some cases; skin re-bronzed. Television is letting us know that the immediacy has ended. Soon the ads imploring people to give to a nationally recognized relief organization will ebb. The crisis of Hurricane Sandy will quickly become one that is long-term and far more complicated to remedy.

Soon people will have the first tier of their needs met (clothing, food, water, and some form of shelter.) In a few months, shuttered hospitals and schools will reopen, and the last of the storm damage refuse will be removed. Temporary housing will have to be erected or reconfigured out of empty space. Health issues, both mental and physical will arise and hopefully be addressed. Soon the long-term problems will be more than any well-organized and well-meaning band of traveling volunteers could possibly remedy.

After the sodden drywall and molded carpeting is hauled away what is there for a volunteer to do? Once people can cook and store food once again, the hot meal preparations and delivery will end. When the mud and sand have gone away, the cleaning supply donations will cease and the tired and dirty shovel wielding helpers will go home. And that is good.

But what of the people that did not have access to food (hot or cold) or shelter before the hurricane? One of the more (morally) troubling stories to be reported after the storm was that of the evacuation of Bellevue. The evacuation was long and arduous and two patients were left behind (intentionally; they weren’t able to make it down the stairs.) Many of the residents of the Men’s Shelter (located in the section of Bellevue previously used as a psychiatric facility) were now living in a high school with other storm evacuees. (You may have heard of this particular temporary shelter, as the sanitary conditions were horrific.) When it came time to reopen the school the sheltered were escorted out. It is not entirely clear where the former residents of the Bellevue Men’s Shelter went. Nor do we know where the couple, previously living in the evacuated Penn Station, went. But the issues raised are clear and difficult to ignore.

During the crisis period, it’s doubtful that anyone was turned away from food, water and clothing distribution. But as we move into the next phase, when housing must be found for as many as 30,000; not everyone will be welcome. It’s doubtful that those without benefit of housing prior to the storm will be offered housing after the storm. People who were in need of food, water, clothing and shelter prior to the storm will still be in need after the volunteers go home. If anything their access to scarce resources will be diminished, as no doubt those who were previously teetering on the edge of homelessness were pushed full force by the surge of the storm.

There are no easy solutions. We’ve witnessed the enormity of people’s generosity during what is packaged as a crisis. Living as if we are in perpetual crisis is neither sustainable nor desirable. But broadening our definition of crisis would help us channel the very best of humanity to help those most in need. Yes, it is simpler and far more manageable to restore people to their stasis after an external wallop. Perhaps if we shifted our focus from cause to solution, we would find it all less daunting. Why someone is residing in Penn Station is somewhat beside the point. If we agree that all people should have access to safe housing, food, mental and physical health care then back story is beside the point. No one is more or less worthy of stability and care. We know that and during our best moments we feel it.

We have seen an impressive (and functional) collaboration of; state, federal, local, private, public, religious and corporate efforts during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We now know it can be done. We are left wondering why it isn’t done everyday.


Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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Over Here

It’s Memorial Day and somewhere between the sales, barbecues, summer rentals and beach, we will honor those who died while in the military.  There will be beautiful and touching ceremonies and some lovely parades.  If you are lucky enough to come upon a person in uniform, you might even have the opportunity to give thanks.

And tomorrow will be Tuesday, and we will go on with our lives and joys of summer.  Wouldn’t it be great if we really did honor those who serve?  Thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan but hundreds of thousands have returned.  Due to advances in medicine and weaponry, some of these soldiers have survived devastating injuries.  Head injuries alone, account for survival of injuries previously unknown.  Advances in mobile medical treatment and robotics, mean soldiers with severe and multiple amputations are coming home.  For the soldiers’ families, and often for the soldiers themselves, it’s a blessing to be home.

For some, coming home is only a euphemism.  They may have joined the military, partly to have a place to live.  They may be coming back to families who have lost their home.  They may have injuries that prevent them from being in their home.  (Most homes are not wheelchair accessible.)  They may not be able to find any work, or work that is suited to their new self.

The number of Iraq and Afghanistan homeless veterans are rapidly rising.  (You can understand why the Veteran’s Administration doesn’t have actual data on this phenomenon.)  Like any homeless population there is not one path to the status.  Soldiers with head injuries (the invisible injury) can have a very challenging time resuming a normal life.  Some soldiers may have entered the military with a sensibility unsuited to the shock and awe they experienced over there.  Some soldiers return to civilian life feeling overwhelming unsettled by now being a civilian.

There are some injuries and experiences from which one never recovers.  But every person, most of all those who have put themselves in danger in the name of national security, deserves basic help.  A soldier deserves a home.  Whether we need to modify their current home, or create veteran housing (perhaps with all those empty military bases and prisons.)  A soldier deserves job training and placement (cue W.P.A.)  And perhaps less sexy and sound bite, a soldier deserves lifetime mental health care.

These are not difficult or even expensive undertakings.  These are not “sending a man to the moon” or even “war on drugs” expenditures.  These are basic human rights.  All the flag waving in the world doesn’t change the fact that for many returning soldiers, our country has let them down.


Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Holiday


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