Monday, November 22, 2010
Land of 'Yes Ma'am' and Tragedies
Last December, fire swept through a 2-bedroom apartment in Starkville, taking the lives of 9 people crowded into the dwelling. Six children under the age of 6 and 3 women perished. Cause of the fire? Hard times.
After blogging about it, I met with Mayor Wiseman earlier this year when I was crossing Mississippi. Why not, I thought, because someone needs to make sure these women and kids didn't die in vain. My organization, HEAR US, collected money to help with burial costs. He graciously agreed to meet me, and by chance the Alderwoman who represents the family's district happened to be at City Hall, so she joined us.
We talked about resources and need. Mayor Wiseman had done his homework and was appalled at the gaping holes in the safety net. I wasn't. He vowed to bring stakeholders together to strategize how to, as best as possible, avoid this tragedy in the future. I vowed I wouldn't forget his promise.
So I'm back. The economy has gone through another shellacking, or drubbing, or whatever you call it when the rich get theirs and nothing is left. Mississippi, according to a recent report issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness, ranks 41/50 on the problem of child homelessness. Their stats are a year-old. Things continue to spiral downward.
Winter hasn't hit with its bone-chilling fury, and when it does, the thousands of people in MS who can't afford heat will do what any of us would do--figure out how to heat our humble abodes by any means possible. And this problem is certainly not limited to Mississippi, as reported in this story about a recent Florida fire that killed five children.
I'm not sure how polite I can be today. I'll try. But when the economic tailspin causes budget cuts, I know where those cuts fall--to those who have no power to fight for their stake. In cities and towns across America families teens, and single adults have no place to call home. On the other side of town, some families have multiple homes. And houses sit vacant, emptied by the foreclosure debacle that has upended life across our land. The folks from NCFH have a plan. It requires political will. Harrumph.
Sorry for being a radical (no, I'm not really sorry), but I think when we have housing surpluses we should make sure people in our communities are housed. That's an approach that needs to be certified by government. So I'll ask.
Seems to me we've tolerated seeing homeless families and poverty far beyond the point of tragedy. I'd suggest one gauge: if your family was on the brink of homelessness, what would you want? Don't accept less. Yes, ma'am. Ya'll come back...we'll see.