Harry’s Heart-2-Hart: Just Not Enough

 By Harry Mitchell

Harry Mitchell
Harry Mitchell

Hello and a happy spring to all of you loyal beat readers. If you’re anything like me, I’ll bet you’re glad to see the warm weather emerging with it’s April showers and May flowers blooming. I know that you will probably be inclined to agree with me when I say that it would be the understatement of the year to say that this past winter has been rough, especially for the homeless.

Homelessness has come a long way since the days of the vagrant hobo walking down the railways of past Americana. With his few meager belongings wrapped up in a bandana tied to the end of a stick, looking and hoping to find a place to sleep for the night, he would look in an empty railroad boxcar or maybe a secluded spot somewhere in the semi-wilderness on the outskirts of a small town to take a load off, then build a small inconspicuous camp fire, roasting a frankfurter accompanied by a can of beans. Compared to the present times, the image is considered nostalgic and the hobo himself is an almost mythical lovable down on his luck character of American history. 

Well these days, the homeless don’t appear to be so lovable to the general public anymore. As a matter of fact, we are now viewed as walking and talking eyesores of the community, due to the negative prejudices of some of society in regards to who we are and what we care about. Through my own personal experiences, I found that an abundance of society now looks upon us as a bunch of lazy, not ambitious, alcoholic, drug addicted, career criminal offenders who are just a waste of skin taking up space. In a few cases, this might be considered true, though even the few bad apples are not a waste of skin, as I believe everyone is put here to serve a positive purpose, whether they know it or not.

Also some of the women that live in the homeless realm aren’t always viewed favorably in the judgmental eye of the public as well. Sometimes they are seen as nothing more than crack and dope addicted mothers who don’t take care of their little ones and will perform sexual favors for very little or nothing to some selfish SOB taking advantage of the fact that she’s got a habit. Again, in a few cases some of these things may ring true, but to say that these are the primary reasons that people become homeless is total BS.

The reasons people become homeless are multiple and varied like the different shades and skin tones of the complexions in African Americans. The reasons range from being out of work, mental health issues, lack of affordable housing, family issues and unfortunate set of circumstances that present themselves at inopportune times in our lives.

Being without a permanent residence doesn’t make us people of an unsavory nefarious character. All it means is that at some place and time in our lives, something went wrong. So in Society’s opinion, it becomes our personal responsibility to try to fix what is broken, with practically little or no help from the current powers at be.

You see, I think about these things quite often. Mostly while I’m in my bed or bunk or mattress on the floor of whichever shelter I happen to be in at that time. I think while the sometimes overly pungent smell of feet, flatulence and B.O permeates the air as I’m gradually being lulled to sleep by the cacophonic high volume sounds of snoring by the great Hartford nasal shelter symphony. (It’s amazing what one can become accustomed to after prolonged exposure).

Nevertheless, I think. And do you know what my thoughts tell me? Well in my opinion, although I know my opinion might not mean a hill of beans to some, simply being homeless isn’t the sole problem.

I believe that a large portion of the problem lies in the fact that there simply aren’t enough special programs and services in our city and state social service structures to accommodate the needs of Hartford’s residents as well as the rest of the Connecticut homeless.

Furthermore, our city and state’s governing bodies and policy makers don’t appear to harbor any lamenting concern in regards to this unfortunate and longstanding situation of some of it’s citizens. I also find it inexcusable that no one is even making an honest effort, whether they feel it would be futile or not, to at the very least try to partially expunge this deplorable state of affairs that our state’s men, women, and children are subjected to.

One of the arguments I’m always confronted with is, “well they have shelters, what more do they want?” Well, that question itself is as asinine as the ass that would ask that question, and I’ll tell you why. Because a shelter is a shelter, it’s a place to go during inclement weather or even when the weather is tolerable and pleasant. It is a place to lay your head and get a good night’s sleep, off the street, to eat and bathe, even though shelters are meant to be temporary.

At times coming in and being shielded from either the cold or rain and receiving a hot meal and a place to sleep can be as satisfying as basking in the realm of post-coital bliss with a significant other by your side. However, it’s only temporary and it doesn’t fix the problem; it only helps ease the pain.

Shelters have some services, such as case management, to try and help you attain housing or to help you figure out what it is you want to do in regards to your situation and what can be done to change and improve it. However, housing lists are long and playing the hurry up and wait game can become tedious rather quickly, and employment specialists can only do so much when there aren’t jobs available.

Not to mention the fact that we have people out here with college degrees who cant find employment, so you know it’s going to be a bit more difficult for someone who may have just a high school diploma, G.E.D. or neither.

In a sense, there really isn’t enough of anything in this state anymore. Not enough shelters, not enough affordable and subsidized housing, not enough programs and services that actually help, not enough money in the state budget (so they say). But I believe that like I believe in the blue fairy.

Even harder to believe is the fact that there really aren’t enough shelters to accommodate the amount of homeless in Hartford. And rumor has it (don’t give me any backlash about this because I heard it from a source) that one of our men’s shelters will be shut down and moved sometime in the future. Also from what I understand, they want to build it way out in the North Meadows somewhere or around Jennings Road. Could you imagine an actual exodus of homeless men traveling back and forth everyday like an assemblage of religious zealots in search of a promise land? That would be insane!

Trying to attain bus passes and tokens from the programs that currently exist is like trying to pull teeth. So what are people supposed to do? Walk, run, ride a bike everyday? And seriously, there isn’t even anything out there except the police station and jail. I don’t know about you, but I find this whole scenario very disturbing.

There also aren’t enough public restrooms available for Hartford’s patrons, which can mean getting arrested for urinating behind a tree or bush in the park when you need to go. While I’m not trying to say anything disparaging about the police, I’m sure some of you would agree that given all the murders and other serious crimes that occur, it would seem to me that Hartford’s so-called finest could and should find better things to do than harass homeless citizens for relieving themselves. What do they want? People to wet themselves or have the shelter hand out depend under-garments when we leave for the day? It’s ridiculous.

It’s also ridiculous the way our cities and state are run with no regards to the plight of the homeless. Even the residential citizens of our city don’t want shelters open or built in our own neighborhoods. They take on the same attitudes of our politicians saying, “You can build or have one, just not in my back yard.” Come on folks, we are people too. As a matter of fact, we’re your friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors. Don’t shun us because of our present dilemma. Whether it was self-inflicted due to some bad choices or just simply fell on hard times, we shouldn’t be harshly judged because we happen to be the recipients of a stupendous life problem that is currently afflicting our quality of life.

Meanwhile, the bureaucrats sit in their political ivory towers with their thumbs in their rears, feigning oblivious as to what is really going on as article 25 or our universal declaration of human rights are being trampled on like the broken heart of jilted lover.

Okay, enough angry man talk. If I have offended anyone, you have sincerest humble apologies, but all I’m saying is I would like to see and experience some change. I also fully comprehend that my amateur rants and raves on paper isn’t going to do that.

However, what will produce change is if we (the homeless and those who work with the homeless) can come together in a collaborative effort. I truly believe we can make that change happen. For example, a few weeks ago the women and children of Marshall House, along with Sandy Barry their fearless leader, City Councilman Larry Deutsch and I, were at a city budget meeting at Hartford City Hall. Number 31 on the agenda was the proposed closing of the women’s no freeze shelter at Marshall House.

Well, they presented their arguments and fought it. And from what I understand they have gotten some of what they wanted and were able to keep the no freeze shelter open longer than the anticipated closing date. It was a small victory but a victory just the same. They made a change.

So my feeling is, if all of you (my homeless and disenfranchised brothers and sisters) can come together and amalgamate our thoughts, ideas, and concerns and make a truly arduous and assiduous effort to form a united front and combat the anal retentive politicians who turn a blind eye to our disparity, and cause minor disruption in the hierarchical social structure presently in effect.

How you ask? By remaining vigilant in our pursuit of social justice and by using good old fashioned grass roots activism. And with this I do believe our goals can be achieved. Because let’s face it, at some level we’re all in the same boat, and it’s sinking faster than the Titanic. We can’t expect the shelters and the limited services available to start grabbing buckets and lifeboats to bail us out.

We have to at least try and do it for ourselves. I realize that this task may appear to be insurmountable, but I assure you – it is not.

Again, I would like to extend my apologies to anyone who I may have unintentionally offended by what I have written, because I don’t want to come off as some self-righteous, self-appointed, maniacal champion of justice. Until next time, take care of yourselves and again, have a happy spring and a delightfully eventful and productive summer.

Until next time, this is from my heart to yours.


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4 Responses to Harry’s Heart-2-Hart: Just Not Enough

  1. margaret pienkowski says:

    You are absolutely correct. We as a nation should be ashamed of ourselves. We claim to be one of the leaders of the free world, helping the disenfranchised and oppressed global-wide yet we can’t seem to help our own right here in the good old U.S. of A. I hope you continue to speak out and inform about the reality of homelessness and hopefully bring about a change in the thinking of the powers that be. Since many of our big companies do not pay any taxes, maybe they can at least use their money to help provide housing and assistance to those in need

    • Nathan Fox says:

      Thanks Margaret! We plan to continue speaking up about homelessness until something REAL is done to change the present situation. Your supportive words give us the energy to carry on, so please don’t stop checking in and spreading the love.

      Nathan & The Beat

  2. Furry says:

    I think the State Agencies or to slow to respond to anything.
    Then there is the Money thing worse than 20 years ago .
    Anyway we got empty apartments in my HUD building and they’ve been
    empty for at least a year!? Tell me the State isn’t behind or slow.
    I was homeless once, it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t my fault but that’s what they
    are there for – emergencies. I’m not any longer but it’s not a chapter I want to have to repeat but if it does – then it does you make the best out of anywhere your at.

  3. David says:

    Nicely written, Harry– from the heart and with a sense of humor. Hang in there.

    (a volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, a shelter in Danbury)

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