“Homeless in a Gingrich world”
The former Speaker of the House reveals an alarming blindspot.
April 9, 2017
Filed under Opinion
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Snow fell quietly one morning this past December when I turned to my television set for a blast of white noise to complement the lingering fog of sleep. I browsed channels aimlessly, meandering past infomercials for two-ton weight-loss machines and strange new cutlery designs. Eventually I settled on CSPAN, hoping to be lulled back to sleep by the echo of flapping gums in Washington. I was shocked wide awake, however, when the jowls of Newt Gingrich shook violently on the screen.
Mr. Gingrich was on a panel with Van Jones, Patrick Kennedy and Dr. Sally Satel discussing the opioid epidemic sweeping America, taped last October. Gingrich argued against taxpayers footing the bill for ambulances repeatedly rushing to the aid of addicts who overdose in multiple instances, relating the issue to problems of housing homeless people.
“There are a significant number of homeless people,” Gingrich said, “who are homeless because they want to be. And those of you who drive over by Union Station know there’s a homeless shelter, and for most of the year, if you drive by there, you’re gonna see somewhere between ten and thirty people who are sleeping on the street outside the shelter. They go to the shelter to eat, and then they go back outside because they don’t want to be in the shelter. They don’t want to be controlled by anybody.”
Indeed, the new presidential administration and its chest-beaters continues to meet expectations. That so many homeless folks lived without shelter out of disdain for authority was news to me, as I had never heard it expressed by any I had met, ever. I have spoken with many people who have no shelter to go to as I guiltily returned to campus on the Green Line after late nights of excess.
Mr. Gingrich’s words recalled my memory of one woman I met on a subzero night in February of 2016. She introduced herself as Rosie, but her cheeks were white with early stages of frostbite when she hustled into the tube. The cold did not hamper her sociability, however, and she struck up a conversation with me the moment she sat to my left.
I did not have to speak much, and I was content with listening as she ran the conversational gamut. She asked me about my goals, my hopes, my present condition, how I was feeling and where I was headed, never talking of herself unless prompted by me.
I asked where she was staying for the night with such an inhospitable cold choking the air. She told me she would sleep on the train until she was asked to remove herself, and even proposed to me a fantastical scheme to build another train line for the sole purpose of housing the homeless at night.
“It’s not humane, how they kick us out in this cold when the trains stop,” Rosie said.
I asked her if there were shelters she could turn to.
“I can’t go to the Dorothy Day Center,” she said, “because I could get robbed, or worse.”
I was incredulous.
“Worse?” I said. “Isn’t there some supervision there?”
She shook her head. “The volunteers do good work, but they don’t catch everything. People sell drugs. Someone could have a knife.”
“Jesus,” was all I could say.
I was unaware at the time of her true motivations for living as she did—that she actually despised authority, enough to avoid the shelter—and apparently neither was she. Maybe she did not hear of Mr. Gingrich’s findings, as she would have no means to do so anyway. Or perhaps Mr. Gingrich’s sources did not research the issue thoroughly, since surely a prestigious civil servant would never purposely lie for political or monetary gain.
Luckily for Mr. Gingrich, I will be newly graduated and seeking full-time employment in one short year. I would like for this article to serve as my application for the position of Local Twin Cities Goon Examining Destitution on the Green Line, for either Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Trump, since their own henchmen are demonstrably not up to the task.
Due to my considerable experience prowling the train during the night’s quietest hours and mingling with its inhabitants, I believe I am more than qualified for the job. I promise to be efficient and thorough, for it would be unfortunate if any flag-carriers of the new presidential administration were severely misinformed.
If any readers are interested in helping in their own small way to improve the situation of good people like Rosie, I recommend taking a gander at https://www.cctwincities.org/volunteer/