Monday, April 21, 2003

Feeling Good On Easter Sunday? How Dare You

Easter Sunday is a day of celebration. For Christians it is a day to rejoice in Christ's victory over death. Non-Christians can enjoy the secular aspects of the Easter Bunny, Easter baskets, and Easter eggs. A day to be with your family and be happy.

But not so fast.

Usually the "holiday guilt" stories are reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know the ones.

"While you're sitting in your cozy home enjoying your Thanksgiving feast you might want to pause and remember those not as fortunate...."

Apparently now Easter is fair game as well. Kate Stanley's piece in Sunday's Star Tribune on the closing of a homeless shelter brings out an oversized guilt hammer and swings it freely:

There were a few people missing from the late-night barbecue at the homeless shelter at 519 Portland Av. S. last Tuesday. As the local ne'er-do-wells munched on burgers to mark the closing of the only home they had, you couldn't help but wonder where the politicians were.

The hotshots who show up at hockey playoffs and grocery grand openings -- at conferences and community festivals -- were nowhere in sight.

But who can blame them? A farewell supper at Hennepin County's "Secure Waiting Overflow" facility -- a holding tank for the homeless in an old animal-testing lab -- isn't exactly a great photo-op. A chance for a one-on-one with society's drunks and drug addicts -- its psychotics, ex-cons and plain old poor folk -- isn't the sort of constituent contact elected officials crave.


The black hearted devils. They were probably in a smoke filled room trying to figure out how to slash more money from human services budgets and give it to their rich fat cat friends.

It already sounds like a terrible tragedy Kate but could you put a personal face on it for us?

Thus Minnesota's Important People didn't get a chance to hear Bob, who finished up a drug sentence at Stillwater seven months ago, muse over where he'd stay once 519 closed its doors Wednesday morning. "I'm not even gonna worry about it," he said. "Trying the other shelters will be hopeless. With this place closing, everything will be jammed."

Bob has a job dismantling old computers for $6.50 an hour -- a salary far too low to secure an apartment. Besides, his criminal record pretty much writes him off any landlord's list. He's resigned to being homeless -- with no gripes.


It could happen to any of us you know? Well maybe not the whole drug sentence and criminal record part but...

Neither did government leaders meet Mike, who wasn't at all concerned about 519's demise. He'd shown up mainly for the barbecue -- perhaps a little drunker than he'd meant to be -- and certainly wasn't counting on the old lab's steamy halls to shield him from the cold. "I can't stand this place," Mike said. "I got out of prison in '84, and I've been outside ever since."

Ah that ol' rascal Mike. Trying to be somewhat sober for the barbecue after all society's put him through. What a trooper.

Who's to blame for all this anyway?

This is part of the picture the politicians are missing: the palpable fear the homeless feel. Those grappling with mental illness are afraid of the drunks, and vice versa. Both are a bit on edge about sleeping alongside the ex-cons. And pretty much everyone's scared of the cops.

That's right. Those evil politicians and their heartless budget cutting. And the cops. They're not helping matters either.

Indeed, the nice thing about 519 Portland, rathole or no, was its sense of community. The stench may have been strong, but the guys felt safe.

The last sentence was a pretty accurate description of the house I lived in for two years in college. But how about some more personal stories Kate?

Dave takes methadone to keep him from returning to his longtime heroin habit. Despite 13 tries at alcoholism treatment, he still drinks every day.

"I think about quitting," he said. "I really do. But you know, the truth is, if you're homeless, you're drinking. It's the only way to forget."


Hmmm.... Thirteen times? As JB Doubtless astutely pointed out I think Dave has the whole cause and effect equation backward here. You drink then you're homeless. Not the other way around.

Kate then hammers her point home:

The people who didn't show up at the barbecue, of course, don't have to forget. They don't know what it's like to sleep in a windowless hellhole. They don't know what it's like to go to bed not knowing where you'll sleep tomorrow. Most can't imagine what it's like to be plagued by mental illness, to be dominated by addiction, to be shackled by poverty.

Were you at the barbecue? Then you should feel shame you uncaring bastards and your fancy Easter ham.

And when you don't know such things -- and don't bother to find out -- it's easy not to care. You needn't worry about what will happen when an extra hundred vagabonds join the 800 or so homeless people already living outside. You don't have to fret about the social cost of letting addicts and people with serious mental illness go untreated. You don't have to think about the fairness of sending such people to jail, or the sense of shuttling them in and out of state hospitals.

You don't care. But Kate does. I think she's building up to a big finish here.

You can shrug the whole thing off -- all the loneliness and sorrow and struggle -- and prattle on about "belt-tightening" and "sacrifice for all."

The payoff's coming. Wait for it. Wait for it.

If you don't show up at the barbecue, you may never notice that not everyone has a belt.

Bingo! Bring it home Kate. Heap that guilt on us with a clever closing. Us who didn't show up at the barbecue. Us selfish people. With our budget cuts and no new taxes pledges. Trying to ignore the beltless in our midst.

The most striking thing about this whole piece is how damn superior Kate feels. Because she showed up. She cares you see. Of course other than showing up she really didn't do anything. She didn't suggest any possible alternative solutions to the problems other than the implicit call for higher taxes. She didn't tell us how we might help these people through charity work or donations. Because in reality her goal is not to help these people or solve their problems. It's to make us feel guilty and to shame us into agreeing that government and higher taxes are the only answer. If we read this and feel bad then Kate feels good (about herself).

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