“The other America...” is referenced in a quote from journalist Carl Braden. I went to a 50th celebration of the Carl Braden Memorial Center, where Carl and his wife Ann fought and organized around the issue of political and racial oppression. They were ostracized greatly for their work. In the day Carl was jailed and called a communist. They trudged on and opened the center where Ann continued the work after Carl died.
Both understood the inequity of America. While life was wonderful and satisfying for many in this country, the Bradens championed justice for those who did not know equality. Many people do not like their memories, but for the large crowd today, the couple was honored for their work.
Carolyn King was with me; she, too, is a justice warrior who believes in equity and leveling the playing field. She works on many levels, and I have learned a lot from her. And from Ann, she became a good friend to me as I was trying to open Haven House 20 years ago. She and Louie Coleman and sometimes Maddie Jones would join me at the Gazebo in Warder Park to tell me to stay the course.
Many would probably think that is odd. I didn’t. They knew well that NIMBY (not in my back yard) was pervasive and it was a part of the battle they were fighting for social justice against inequity, the lack of voice for the poor, and the lack of power.
At the center celebration, I thought about the people I serve and the uphill battle they have in finding jobs with living wages, housing, an inviting neighborhood, and opportunity. It is an uphill battle right now. Programs are being sliced because of priorities, housing lists are full, and the hate language for vulnerable people is out of control. If you disagree, you are called despicable names and held up to ridicule.
I read last week the White House review on Homelessness in America. I can’t say I disagreed with all of it. Actually, in some areas, we are in complete agreement. A disproportionate amount of dollars has been spent on programming geared at special populations while diminishing programs for families and single adults with no disabilities or addiction. Because of the efforts to extinguish chronic homelessness, all the eggs (money) were placed in the basket of the permanent supportive housing.
In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on counting the homeless and developing systems to address those numbers. Communities were promised the opportunity to develop their own plans through a process called the Continuum of Care, but as priorities came out from Washington, many in the states responded by developing statewide priorities that led to the elimination of many quality programs, such as transitional housing in Indiana. As a result Southern Indiana has only one HUD program — LifeSprings Permanent Supportive Housing — locally in Floyd and Clark counties. Other programs were defunded because they were transitional housing programs.
I say all that to say this: The disparity between the haves and the have-nots has grown greatly in this country and the numbers of the homeless have grown to extremely large numbers, not just here but in every major urban area. Louisville’s population is small compared to Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, New York and Los Angeles. The White House briefing would have us believe it might be good to build large buildings a little out of towns or cities to accommodate the masses. Begin to ensure quality of life measures by creating ordinances that would allow for the arrest of those sleeping outside.
I remember such a building here, on Highway 62. It sat on the property now home to the 4H fairgrounds, and it was called the Poor Farm. Almost every county had one. We tore them down because we felt they were not the answer then and they are not the answer now. It is about resources and housing, and a living wage/or housing subsidies. It really isn’t rocket science. If you don’t want homeless people in your community, build housing and programs that accommodate them and you can eliminate homelessness.
I remember a time when the towns all had a figure everyone knew who slept outdoors but because he drank too much. We didn’t have families, we didn’t have working poor people, and then 1983 happened. Mental health hospitals were defunded, the HUD budget was decimated, Community Action agencies lost funding, and in general the poor went backward by years. We cannot go backward again.
Today there is an anger. The opioid crisis is in full swing, hopelessness and despair has begun to set in and people don’t know what to do right now. Whatever it is it has to be different. We cannot go back to the days when we ignore what is right in front of us. We cannot allow political, racial, economic, or any other kind of oppression to instill a fear in us that should have been dealt with a long time ago. We cannot criminalize homelessness or ticket it away and our jails are way too crowded to act as the local shelter.
As a community we need a decent dialogue, we need programs that help those coming from jail re-enter the community housed and employed; we need to pay people what they need to live on and if we can’t we need to provide subsidies for their essential needs so they can continue to work low-wage jobs. In this country we are promised equality and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It never qualified the neighborhood, just the right.
— Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email firstname.lastname@example.org.