Friday, September 26, 2008

War and Poverty: Out of sight, out of mind

This morning, I rolled out of bed and grabbed a bus downtown. I was determined to be bear witness to what many in our country have never seen, and seldom ever hear of... The last 50 homeless men were kicked out of Franklin Shelter at 13th and K Streets NW. Out of sight, out of mind.

I got to the front of the shelter at 6:55 a.m. There were a couple of the men standing out front with some young white folks, mostly students, some anarchists. One man, I had seen the evening before when we chanted and protested in the nearby intersection, was on the lower steps of the shelter loudly expressing himself. I thought of the Biblical figure of John, the voice crying out in the wilderness. Alone but full of truth.

"They don't care, they go about their business, they don't care about people like us," he shouted. "And for (Adrian) Fenty? He doesn't give a damn! Those in power, they are baby killers."

I was speechless, but I nodded in agreement. Those in power are baby killers. One of the white students thought the man's anger was being directed at him, and tried to reassure him that we were all there in support and solidarity. Part of the man's diatribe seemed a bit confused, but it was clearly full of disappointment and pain. "I know, I know you are here to support," he mumbles, and then a few minutes later he wanders off when he sees a few police approach the front steps and the main doorway. "I don't want to deal with them, they aren't civilized."

According to the law, and what the men from Franklin Shelter have in writing, is that the shelter was to be closed on October 1st. But over the last several days men have been pushed out and the beds have been disappearing. Many are being bused over to 801 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, but some are going straight back out to the streets. And hypothermia season is approaching quickly.

When I arrived there were already a small handful of police monitoring us and the shelter. By 7:05 about 30 more police arrive in squad cars, they seem unsure what to do, there's just a small group os us there. I overhear a shelter security guard talking into a walking talkie about a couple trucks coming to "move stuff." The crowd of police on 13th Street seem to be talking to each other and into cell phones. Terry, a shelter resident and I comment to a couple students watching, that's taxpayer money at work. After several more minutes and deciding that none of us were a direct threat, half of these police on 13th Street leave.

About then I see that Jane Zara, a fellow WPC board member and attorney arrives. She is interviewing a couple of the residents, and overhear something being mentioned about a last-minute legal maneuver.

Terry tells another attorney and some others standing by, "The men in Franklin are being dehumanized. We are not thought of as humans by the mayor or the city council." A little later I remark to Terry and some students he engages in a little DC history lesson, that the mayor first wants to move the homeless east of the river and then eventually out of the city entirely. Out of the sight of the corporations and upwardly selfish yuppies.

Baby killers. Out of sight, out of mind.

Meanwhile, as I type this I see on The National Priorities "Cost of War" Website, that the cost of the Iraq War has spiraled past $557.3 billion dollars. The number jumps another $10,000 every 4 seconds! And what does this grand sum of money earn us? Over a million dead Iraqis! And 4,173 Americans murdered by the Bush Administration.

But you know, we can't afford to provide basic shelter for 300 men in downtown DC. Fenty is closing Franklin Shelter, within earshot of the White House, ahead of schedule. He is acting in a preemptive manner. A preemptive strike, sending men to their death. Sound familiar?

By 7:45 a.m. the moving trucks arrive, they remove 6 large folded dining tables, lots of chairs, a TV, a microwave. Some of the young white guys have digital cameras and continue documenting this shame. Someone mentions that a nearby upscale bar on K Street was celebrating last night that the shelter was closing. Supposedly the men's lockers are going to be moved to 801.

Out of sight, out of mind. About 8:10 a.m. I wander off, thoroughly disgusted by my city and country. But then again, I am also responsible -- why didn't I act sooner? What could I have done?

As I use the pull down menu on The National Priorities Website, I check out a trade-off for the Iraq War. At the current total cost of the criminal and immoral war and occupation, we in the U.S. could have instead have had -- this is what it tells me:

For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided: 5,103,740 Affordable Housing Units.
Want to do something about this outrage? Come to Mayor Fenty's Office at the Wilson Building (1350 Penn Ave. NW) at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon.

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