Monday, June 27, 2005

PDN takes aim at the homeless

Ah, nothing like turning a serious social problem into a series of punch lines and potty jokes.
WEARING HIS trusty gas mask, the Daily News Stinkmeister, voice of the pee-and-poop-plagued public, was strolling through Logan Circle when he saw hordes of homeless men converging on the Ben Franklin Parkway, turning Center City's crown jewel into a campground of chronic despair.

Noting that there was not a single toilet in sight, the Stinkmeister immediately issued an Urgent Barefoot Alert to the at-risk million Live 8 and "Welcome America!" visitors ready to invade the Parkway this weekend.

The city has banned Live 8's hordes from sleeping on the Parkway, but hasn't changed its let-it-be attitude toward homeless, toiletless campgrounds there.
It is true that many homeless people do congregate on the Parkway. Given that hundreds of thousands of people are going to cram themselves there for Live 8, it's certainly worthwhile to raise the question of how these two groups will interact. However, both the author of the article and Councilman Frank DiCicco come across as heartless at best.
"It's almost like they're feeding stray animals. Put some food out and the animal will come back," said City Councilman Frank DiCicco. "They think they're doing good, but the only thing those feeders are doing for the homeless is perpetuating their lifestyle.
Like feeding stray animals? Really? That's a pretty outrageous thing to say. I understand that city officials and business leaders are concerned about the image of Philadelphia when so many out of town visitors will be gracing our streets. However, the solution to homelessness isn't criminalizing poverty or cracking down on people with mental illness. As groups like Project HOME have proven, the best way to deal with the issue is to provide outreach and support. The article does include a small quote from someone from the Street administration who shares this view.
"Last year, Project HOME and other outreach groups got 60 chronically homeless people off the streets, where they had been living for an average of 10 years, and into housing," Hess said. "That outreach was based on establishing trust.

"By allowing the homeless to sleep on the Parkway, we know where they are and our outreach people can work on that trust. When homeless people are living in abandoned buildings where we can't see them, that's when they tend to get hurt or die."
The article ends with a cheeky round-up of the various places homeless people sleep in Philadelphia, called "2005 Homeless Campgrounds of Philadelphia." It's filled with obnoxious descriptions and potty jokes. What's the purpose, besides scoring some points with juvenile humor?


At 10:53 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

I would encourage everyone to actually look at the paper copy of this story, because, I don't think I have seen a set of Philly based pictures that repulsed me more than those published today.

For those who haven't seen the paper copy, what you have is "the stinkmeister," who I assume is Dan Geringer, wearing a heavy duty mask. Then, he goes around to find "smells," all while wearing a gas mask. It is generally a sort of silly, typical DN series of columns. So, what does he do today? He walks up behind a sleeping homeless person, gas mask on, poses behind the homeless guys, and snaps a picture. Right next to it, in another picture, we see his next "find": a huge pile of trash.

The first picture alone set me aback, because it is really one of the more insensitve, stupid, staged, inhumane pictures they could possibly have used. Put next to the huge pile of trash, the symbolism is a little too stark.

What the hell are they thinking?

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Dumplingeater said...

To me, DiCicco's most disturbing comment is that the "feeders" are "perpetuating their [homeless people's] lifestyle." Reminds me a bit of another use of that word, "lifestyle." Sure, some homeless folks choose to sleep on the streets rather than go to a homeless shelter, but the implication that being drug-addicted, alcoholic, chronically without food and shelter, broke, constantly in danger of getting mugged, unable to find employment, etc., is a "lifestyle" choice shows unbelievable ignorance and a complete lack of empathy.

Just another example that many Americans believe that blaming victims (of poverty, or racism, of homophobia, of mental illness, of addiction, etc.) is a valid approach to solving social problems.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Pat Evans/Butcher/Wicks said...

good points. I also think it important for folks to understand that it is the minority of the city's homeless who even live on the streets.

56% of the city's homeless are people with kids. most homeless people are moving from one friend or family member's house every few weeks and eventually landing in a shelter along the way.

beyond addiction and dependence, it is affordable housing and a lack of quality jobs that lead to homelessness for many.


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