The October 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Aristocracy and the Disaster

In Katrina's Wake, Oakland Batters Homeless

A Perfect Storm of Racism

Katrina: Ongoing Human Disaster

FCNL Speaks Out on Katrina

Kerry's Kids: Health Care for Poor Children

Fresh Start Gives Kindness Awards

The Dying Gift of Sharon Ostman

A 500-Year-Old War on the Poor

37 Million Live in Poverty in US

Julia Vinograd: Poet Laureate of Berkeley Streets

Innovative Plans for Homeless Housing

Disabled Woman on a Long Road Back Home

Photographer's Eye for the Dignity of People

Poor Leonard On Prejudice

The Flower Lady

October Poetry of the Streets


September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

The American Aristocracy and the Homeless Disaster

by Robert Mills

Breaking News: "Bush: One of the Worst Disasters to Hit the U.S."
This televised image of Bush from Sky News Ireland has a sardonic double-message.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (she chuckled) -- this is working very well for them."
-- Barbara Bush, while visiting hurricane evacuees at the Houston Astrodome.

So said former First Lady Barbara Bush about the unimaginable suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina. The insensitive callousness of her attitude harkens back to a previous era of 19th century aristocracy. Such blatant inhumanity towards the poor and homeless makes this a strong indictment against our modern-day aristocracy.

Her son, President George W. Bush, said that we need to get on with rebuilding the damage done and ignore the fingerpointing. It is very clear, however, that the new aristocracy of the New World Order and its charter members -- the Bush family, Dick Cheney and his cronies at Halliburton, oil company CEOs, the disgraced Enron executives, and the rest of the super-rich -- have been pointing fingers for a while now. They have been using the "blame the victim" excuse to explain away persistent poverty and homelessness, and they honestly believe that it is the victims who are at fault.

When it comes to the poorest of the poor, the homeless, it seems that most Americans have been convinced as well. In his book Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler stated it very well: If you need to lie to the public, make it a big enough lie to be believable, and the masses are gullible enough to fall for such a lie. Certainly, it is enough to throw some crumbs and provide a little sheltered floor space out of the elements for the hurricane refugees, and call that proof that America cares.

Hurricane Katrina was terrible, but people need to be aware that this disaster has been going on for far longer than just this one storm. People are dying daily on the streets of America because of neglect, botched-up bureaucracy, and a wall of apathy and detachment. In the Bay Area alone, every year several hundred human beings die from the effects of long-term poverty and malnutrition, exposure, disease, lack of medical care and even starvation. Nationwide, thousands of homeless people die every year.

More families are living on the streets, fighting for their very lives and the lives of their children. The mentally disabled (especially in California) do not get the care they need, and many more who have multiple levels of problems and personal crises are reaching out for a safety net that is strained and inadequate.

The countless thousands who are going to be left homeless by Hurricane Katrina will add to this crisis; many will not recover and will end up in the ranks of the chronically homeless, putting a deeper strain on already limited resources.

We are only fooling ourselves if we believe it will be different in some way with this disaster. In a few months time, these disaster victims who have no support will be like the rest of the homeless in America and will treated as such.

America is the richest country in the world; yet we are spending over $100 billion on military excursions in the Middle East. Contrast that amount to the commitment of the government to help the victims of Katrina (a little more than $10 billion, and maybe as much as $50 billion). Do we feel any safer with this massive expenditure on the military? We should review what it takes to be secure and safe.

As I lie out on the concrete ground in Berkeley at night, listening and watching all around me, I take stock of what I might have next to me if I were attacked; or if the ground itself were to open up by some major movement of the earth, what could I do? But beyond these concerns, I have to be on the alert for a police car, and whether it is going to stop to tell me I am trespassing or that there is no camping allowed. And with the new security measures in place under Homeland security, am I going to be arrested as a suspected terrorist?

So with the cold, the hardness of the concrete and the need to be constantly vigilant, I get very little sleep. The more deprived of sleep, the slower my thinking becomes and I can say that shadows jump out of nowhere from my dreams into the real world. I may be just sitting on a bench or chair, and the only sound is my own snoring and then the fast jerking of my body as I get startled out of my sleep by some unknowable noise or apprehension. As far as I know, sleep deprivation is still a crime against humanity.

Attorney General turns homeless people into terrorists

The most recent scandal of the government was to make an effort to link homeless people with terrorists. In recent weeks, the U.S. Attorney General sent out memos to law enforcement agencies all across the nation to be on the lookout for terrorists who might be posing as homeless people. So now, as I wait for a BART train or bus to get somewhere, I wonder whether my dirty clothes are going to be suspect and I will be carted off by "special" police to some hidden jail cell.

Local law enforcement agencies know who the homeless people are, and the homeless themselves are aware of "new faces" on the street; and, as a community which tries to survive, they always are vigilant for themselves. Why the memos?

There are already too many myths about who the homeless are. The truth is that homeless people are increasingly vulnerable to violent assaults and hate crimes on the street, yet the federal government does nothing to protect them or defend their "security."

The Homeland Security Department was created to protect America, and headed the whole rescue effort of the Katrina crisis. If this is an example of how effective it is, then we have to question whether it can protect us as it was designed to do. Or is it more unnecessary bureaucracy?

Negligence is just that, no matter what the excuse. Our leadership was on vacation. President Bush had two days left of his month-long vacation, and Vice President Cheney had three days left. But those in the disaster area had to wait for more than four days to get the help they needed, and many people perished during this time. And the best that could be said about this human tragedy was from the mouth of Barbara Bush, that this epidemic of disease, death, hunger and homelessness "is working very well for them."

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, and with prophetic insight: "The greatness of any nation ought to be judged, not by its military might, but by how she treats her lesser members."

Many faith traditions side with the poor and acknowledge the need to side with the powerless and help be a voice for the voiceless. Money is not going to be enough by itself. It is going to take organization and commitment. We, the homeless, do not have the resources, but we have the time and the commitment; and many of us feel that we have nothing more to lose. Being at the very bottom means that there is only one way to go -- upwards.

If readers would like to support the effort to organize the homeless poor, the Berkeley Homeless Union would appreciate it. I invite readers to visit a yahoo group at

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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