"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Friday, February 09, 2007

Word to Bush -- Isaiah 3:15

A long time ago, riding down a street in Salt Lake City with my dad, I saw a bunch of guys in carwash uniforms kicking and stomping on another guy who was down on the ground, looked like he could have been homeless but who knows, and who knows what he may have done, if anything, to incur the wrath of his attackers. Whatever else it was, it was obviously not a fair fight. When we got to Dad's office he called the police to report the incident. I haven't witnessed live very many instances of real violence which seems a little surprising to me, considering how prevalent it is in the world. In my own protected sphere most of the violence I see is prepackaged and edited or staged, with one subtle exception.

I have a client, a woman in her 50's, who (along with her cat) is about to end a long stint of homelessness. She was a winner of a recent Section 8 "lottery." During the cold snaps in January I wondered almost every night if I would read the next morning that she had frozen to death. The homeless shelter wasn't a viable option for her because they have many stringent rules for eligibility imposed by their HUD funding. No way in hell was she giving up her cat, her best friend and companion for the past ten years, and she doesn't do so well with crowds and little privacy. I have heard people use the term "feral humans" as a way of trying to wash their hands of those "hard to serve" homeless who won't sign away nearly all of their personal liberties for the sake of a roof and a hot dinner, but she has been very much interested and focused on finding herself a warm, safe place to live.

A few months ago, our local Housing Authority held a lottery for people to try to win a position on the waiting list for a Section 8 voucher. Briefly, the Section 8 program allows people to receive rental assistance that allows them to rent a very modest apartment of their choice (from any landlord who will accept the vouchers). The tenant is obligated to pay about 30% of whatever income he / she has as their share of the rent. There is a ceiling on the amount of assistance the Housing Authority can provide, so the total rent has to be at the lower end of the area's average rents to start with, or the rental won't get approved. If or when the tenant's income increases, the Section 8 subsidy decreases proportionally. So it's a pretty smart program, encourages responsibility, theoretically helps avoid concentrating all the poor people into one spot, includes annual inspections to make sure the housing is up to health and safety codes, and so on.

Unfortunately the waiting list to obtain one of these prized vouchers in our county had been closed for YEARS before the recent lotteries. Even once on the waiting list, in many areas it can take five years or more before your name comes up.

My client and her cat got lucky -- not only did she win a spot on the list, she got a low number and was able to get a voucher almost immediately. She's working with a landlord to make some repairs on an apartment so that it will pass the Section 8 inspection, and hopefully soon she can leave behind the years of sleeping in old camping trailers and tents and somebody or other's van. I am so proud of her, she's really stayed on top of this plus she has no car and travels everywhere by bicycle and bus. A hero for our time.

So when I read about Bush's budget proposal that would further slash housing assistance programs, it is clear that Bush and his gang are just like those guys at the carwash. This is our "homeland security," a bunch of guys in jumpsuits who will come and stomp on you when you're down. In the article linked above there is an interesting quote from Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign touting the fact that
"for the first time in 20 years we are spending more on human resources than defense."

This was something people once said to try to get re-elected. Huh.

I will vote for anyone who has the internal organs, of whatever gender, to embrace truly and re-proclaim investment in human resources (including varying companion species) as a legitimate American value and a most desirable goal. Down with the thugs.

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