Kinder and Gentler Pilots for Homeless and Elderly

 Panhandlers dug up weeds along a side street in Albuquerque as part of a new program in the city. Credit Mark Holm for The New York Times

Panhandlers dug up weeds along a side street in Albuquerque as part of a new program in the city. Credit Mark Holm for The New York Times

New Orleans    I visit my 92-year old mother every day when I’m in New Orleans. She has 24-hour care, and we’re lucky and fortunate to be able to keep her at home. She eats well, but limited mobility means hours and hours in a big, comfortable arm chair. She reads with a magnifying glass while waiting for new glasses. The TV is on, and new hearing aids may make a difference. We’re looking for a lapdog. She cherishes every minute with the family and doesn’t complain or ask for anything more. Her general health is good, and we trust her caregivers, while we worry continually, but we often wonder about the quality of her life.

I read with interest one of those filler, throw-away articles in the living section of one of the local newspapers about a woman named Jessica Delk who runs something called Someplace Special for the Warren-Yazoo Mental Health Department in Mississippi over the last more than a dozen years. They see themselves as a socialization center. They handle less than 20 seniors at a time who are referred to them because of a mental health diagnosis like depression. They come in crying, sad, sleepless, and isolated. They eat, they exercise, they have discussions, and they take field trips. Sounds good doesn’t it? I think about whether my mother would enjoy something like this, but as good as this sounds, it’s temporary. It’s also a Band-Aid over a bleeding ocean. Twenty musical chairs for thousands there, tens of thousands in Mississippi, and millions in America. We don’t do daycare well for children, how can we imagine doing better for the elderly. Not because we don’t know how or because other countries don’t do much, much better, but because as a society we see these situations as personal problems, private burdens, and family matters.

We also coast along, because this is just the way things are.

We watch the homeless on the corners with a can, under the expressways, sleeping on steps and doorways, and that becomes part of the passing scene as well. The Times ran a story of a new program in Albuquerque that was interesting. A van drove through the campsites and public hideaways of the homeless offering one day of work in cleanup with lunch, transportation, and tools provided and $9 per hour pay for any takers. The story told of some who declined, but a bunch who accepted. The city hopes it makes a difference and moves someone on a better path. Maybe yes, maybe no, but to the degree it is an attitude adjustment in the way they look at the homeless, it’s a great step in the right direction: a hand up, rather than a slap down. Ironically, but movingly, the program is paid for out of a $5 million settlement the City paid to the family of a homeless man with mental health issues that was wrongly killed by the police.

These conditions are difficult but not intractable, but it takes fierce public and political will to steer a different course. But, honestly, if it can be done in the Delta of Mississippi and the wild, independent West of Albuquerque, what’s stopping us elsewhere?

Marina Kaye – Homeless


John Lewis and the New Fight for Voting Rights

Congressman John Lewis Speaking up for Voting Rights

Houston   The lion in winter is still a lion, and John Lewis, a beacon for the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and now a longstanding Congressman from Atlanta, roared in the halls of Congress the other night about voting rights once again.  The simple issue that pushed his button was the hater amendment from another Georgia Congressman Paul Broun trying to deny all funding to the Department of Justice for enforcement of the critical provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.   Broun, caught in the act, by Lewis, smartly apologized and withdrew his amendment, but that was tactical not sincere.  The strategy of voter suppression continues to go unchallenged.

Broun’s amendment was meant to push back the Department of Justice, finally arising from its own slumber, and challenging Georgia and other states’ efforts to implement the Republican strategy of voter suppression through new voter identification methods.  Sadly, not all states are subject to the Voting Rights Act prescriptions, and many from Wisconsin to Kansas that have emerged as the “new South” in denying citizen rights to access the democratic voting process can escape with their strategy untainted.

Lewis’ roar reminds us that we critically need a civil rights movement now about the rights of the disenfranchised among the poor and racial minorities to vote, since they along with the elderly are the key components of the millions likely to lose their ability to vote in November’s election.  While the Obama campaign whined in the front pages of the paper this week that “they got this” on registration and turnout in answer to George Soros, the Democracy Alliance, and other consortiums of the rich stepping up to register and mobilize these voters, the truth is that we need a full court press with all players suited up and on the court.  For my part I hope they are not coming into the game too late, because much of the damage is already done.

Let Lewis lead a new civil rights movement again right now on this issue!

In the absence of major efforts like the independent ones that ACORN led cycle after cycle to register and mobilize voters; we now have overtly partisan outfits like the California Republic Party contractor, Momentum Political Services, reported on this week by the Sacramento Bee, that was hired to overtly add Republican registrants in battleground areas.  Seems they have some huge problems with bad cards, bad addresses, and overtly obvious changes in party registration to Republican.  Voter registration is hard work and the Republican strategy is clear:  suppress the likely Democratic voter base and enhance the Republican voter files.

Without a viable party or campaign strategy at least the rest of us can stand solidly for civil rights and the promise of democracy, even as John Lewis once again has reminded us, the practice of democracy is absent everywhere.

Marching in 1965