I am still chortling over Phil Hands' editorial cartoon in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal. It's the one depicting an absolute ogre shaking the cup at a citizen who marvels that the panhandler makes $15 an hour while Brenda Konkel calls for health insurance.
And belated kudos to the newspaper and its Doug Erickson for his page one story of the previous Sunday (05-18-2008). He does a tidy job of distinguishing between the deserving homeless, who are trying to get their lives back together, and the chronic panhandler/squatter/troublemaker of the kind lionized by Kristen Petroshius, Brenda Konkel, and Pat Schneider. The State Journal headline said it all: Panhandling as a Lifestyle."
Erickson introduces us to a fellow named Darrell Regulus, who has been "down on his luck" for the last 33 years. "That's all I'm asking for, just a little piece of the American pie."
I will quote from Doug's article these three snippets of wisdom:
"I have a hard time believing that someone wanting to change his life can't catch a break. ... They've checked out. ... They don't want to get up in the morning and go to a job." -- Madison Police Officer Jean Papalia.
"We may very well feel badly for the panhandler and it may very well be that the panhandler has legitimate needs. But the reality is that most -- not all -- of them have substance abuse issues and use the money to buy alcohol." -- Porchlight's Steve Schooler.
"It would be very unusual that someone is actually going to go hungry or any of the other things they may present." -- Ralph Middlecamp, of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which operates shelters and a food pantry.
Thank you, William Michaels
Give money to panhandlers. Our society doesn't do much for the poor so give them the money directly. No they don't just use it on drugs and alcohol, they mostly use it to buy food. Consider it a small tax.
Mr. Michaels responded on May 20:
1. Thank you Mr. Blaska for your blogs on homelessness. (A little alarmist/sensationalist at times yet...)
2. I work with homeless individuals.
3. Glenn H. Austin: You enable homelessness. I am against anything that or anyone who enables homelessness. Homelessness is no excuse for people not to make BETTER choices. Did anyone whom you photographed make any appointments for needed services such as Alcohol and/or Drug rehabilitation? Some CHOOSE to live a lifestyle involving alcohol and drugs -- but a MAJORITY DO NOT. Did anyone whom you photographed make any appointments for medical, psychiatric, and/or pharmaceutical services (Remarkable that such services are available to homeless individuals).
Most individuals with a mental health diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are fully able to take their respective medications on their own. The key here is self-sufficiency. Did anyone whom you photographed make any effort to obtain housing. Transitional and other temporary housing are available. Many CHOOSE not to partake of these services because "there are too many rules... I don't like the director... and other excuses not to transition into housing. By the way, obtaining income does not necessarily mean "get a job". Many on the streets could, and should, qualify for SSI benefits. But again, whom amongst those you photographed were willing to take the #2 bus to Job Service, register, and partake of the numerous services offered that they might obtain an income?
So, Mr. Austin, please stop enabling homelessness when so much is available to help them achieve self-sufficiency, incomes, support services, and housing.
Thanks, Mr. Michaels. You remind me that I need to repeat and expand on a point I made much earlier -- that Dane County is a resource-rich community willing to help those who wish to help themselves. Those who do not wish to help themselves, conversely, cannot be helped. Some of our friends make the mistake of thinking that everyone in the world thinks like they do and makes the same choices. Not so. How does one explain Pol Pot, Eliot Spitzer, and Paris Hilton? Bad choices produce bad results. There's no safety net strong enough to protect you from yourself.
Mr. Austin, like most liberals, would rather blame macro forces than assess individual responsibility. Makes the victim game so much easier to play:
I believe that our society created these people. We have cut our welfare programs, hired more police, and built more prisons. American companies have become so greedy that they don't care what happens to the people they employ. We have done practically nothing for the poor and the homeless.
Practically nothing? The City of Madison's annual report on the homeless lists these service providers:
- Emergency shelter programs: Dane County Parent Council Hope House; Domestic Abuse Intervention Services; Interfaith Hospitality Network; Porchlight's Men's Drop-In Shelter and Safe Haven; The Salvation Army's Single Women's Shelter, Family Shelter and Motel vouchers, and Family Warming Shelter; Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin volunteer host homes; and YWCA.
- Transitional and supportive permanent housing programs: Interfaith Hospitality Network/YWCA Second Chance Apartment Project; Porchlight PTO and scattered site housing; Society of St. Vincent de Paul Port and Seton House; The Salvation Army Holly House; Tellurian Transitional Housing and SOS Programs, Veterans Assistance Foundation Green Avenue; Housing Initiatives scattered sites; and YWCA Third Street Program.
- Services only programs: Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin; Porchlight DIGS Program; Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin Financial Assistance; Legal Action of Wisconsin legal advocacy; Tenant Resource Center Housing Mediation; and YWCA Second Chance Tenant Education Workshops.
- Also: AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin rent subsidies; ARC Community Services; ARISE Family Services; Catholic Charities Hope Haven, Colvin Manor, REBOS Chris Farley House, and North Bay Lodge; Goodwill Industries; Rodney Schell House; Tellurian SRO and group homes; Women in Transition; and YWCA SRO units.
And that is not counting such government services as Dane County Human Services, Dane County Housing Authority, City of Madison Housing, or the state and federal Veterans Departments.
Housing? The City Community Development Office counted a total of 7,440 federally assisted housing units geared toward the homeless -- 4,695 in Madison alone and another 2,745 in the remainder of Dane County.
No one helping the State Street wretches? Through the ReachOut program, 165 adults and youth in the Downtown/State Street area were connected with services and 52 street people were housed.
The full list of services is available here (PDF) from the city.