November, 2010

Vote for Poverty


Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked readers to vote on the five most important issues facing the state – the most critical things for the paper to focus on in the coming year. 

See “Including you in our focus for Agenda 2011, MJS, 11/28/10

A nice bit of consumer involvement, the poll was likely intended to send the message that the MJS cares about us and what we think.  It’s tough being in the newspaper business these days so anything that builds connections, like asking people what they think, is a good way to at least hold on to the 12 people who still pick up the paper off the front porch on their way to make a pot of coffee in the morning.

So being a good citizen and a faithful newspaper reader (although there have been plenty of times lately when rotten fish didn’t deserve to be wrapped in this particular paper), I proceeded to register my top 5 community concerns.

Ah, let’s see…

  • Crime
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Energy
  • Great Lakes protection, the environment
  • Health care
  • Immigration
  • Jobs and the economy
  • Milwaukee Public Schools
  • Poverty —— @#$%^&! POVERTY???
  • Rail projects
  • Reform of drunken driving laws
  • Roads and bridges
  • State budget
  • Taxes
  • Teen pregnancy

To me that’s like:

  • Sprained ankle
  • Headache
  • Pulled muscle
  • Head cold
  • Premature baldness
  • Acne
  • Chipped tooth
  • Nearsightedness

How does POVERTY get to be in a list with Roads and Bridges as if these two things are comparable?  In one corner, there’s the health-ruining, education-limiting, opportunity-destroying, soul-killing hammer of poverty.  In the other corner, wearing pink silk shorts with happy faces is Roads and Bridges.  Puhleeze.

I think this way of thinking is a problem.

We’re living in a city that has the 4th highest poverty rate in the U.S.  Why are we even having a discussion about priorities?  What other priority besides reducing poverty could we possibly have?

Like CANCER shouldn’t have to compete with the common cold for attention, POVERTY should be a slam-dunk as a priority.  Every one percent reduction in Milwaukee’s poverty rate would liberate about 6,000 people to think about their future instead of how to scrounge tonight’s dinner.  Think of the brainpower that could suddenly be devoted to helping kids succeed in school or maybe organizing neighbors to fight crime or finding good candidates to run for public office.  Think of the college degrees that could be earned.  The houses bought.  The taxes paid.

I guess I’m tired of the ridiculously high poverty rate being an accepted fact of life in Milwaukee.  And puzzled about how an enormous problem that hurts 1 out of 4 people in our community gets such ho-hum attention.  Are we still blaming the poor for their situation?  Do we think the poor shall always be with us?  Is poverty so institutionalized here that we can’t pull it apart and start eradicating it piece by piece?

I rant.  I exaggerate.  I know that the other issues are important.  Immigration, MPS – a lot of the items of the list need serious and sustained attention.  But the foundation of the heartache in this community is that thousands of kids wake up and go to bed poor and their parents can’t do a damn thing about it.  But we can – if the community decides that’s the highest priority.

So that’s why I think you ought to go online and vote — for Poverty.  Early and often.

History Lesson

They should’ve walked.  Don’t you think?  If they wanted to go out West, they should’ve just walked or ridden a horse or bumped along in one of those cute little Conestoga wagons.  I mean, what was the big hurry?  It’s not like gold or land or opportunity wouldn’t still be there waiting for them if they took a couple of extra months to get there.

But nooooooo.  Some crazy investors, fully supported by the U.S. government in legitimate and not so legitimate ways, and lured by little bergs across the West begging to be stops, decided “Damn it all, America needs trains!”  Can’t you just hear it?  “If we don’t build this train track, the world’s going to leave us behind.”

Ever been to one of those little dusty specks out West — where remnants of a settlement are just barely obvious?  The train route and later the freeway scotched the town’s chances of ever growing.  The stores closed down.  The people had to leave.  The smart ones found the train station in the next town and hightailed it West where the economy was hopping and where people had figured out the connection between PEOPLE  AND  OPPORTUNITY AND TRANSPORTATION.

Wisconsin’s at a critical juncture — we go forward where the action is or we shrivel and dry up.  Bet the town fathers in the 1800’s who didn’t want that dirty, loud locomotive bringing grifters and thieves to town wished they could rethink that decision and get with the program.  Too late for them.  Not for us.

Don’t Read This If You Work for HUD

Every year around this time, when the leaves are falling and thoughts turn to the holidays – all warm and toasty — ahhhh….the HUD Continuum of Care funding application is due.  This year, we will push the button for the electronic submission and then head to Pick and Save to pick up our turkeys.  So fun.

The funding applications requires an extensive set of documentation known as Exhibit 1 along with an application for each project funded under the Continuum’s umbrella.  That’s about 30 projects and around $10+ million.  These projects — transitional housing, permanent housing, and supportive services – all serve people who are homeless – many of them for a very long time and even more with chronic, difficult, and very hard to address problems like mental illness, substance abuse, inadequate education, bad employment histories, and long periods of being down and out that have eroded self-esteem and, worse (worst of all), HOPE.

The programs that work with homeless people run on a bunch of shoestrings with executive directors that are as likely to counsel a client as meet with fancy donors.  The facilities themselves are decent, but not ritzy.  No one’s getting rich working with the homeless and there aren’t a lot of ways to scam the system.  That said, HUD has constructed THE most detailed, exacting, put a fine point on it system for funding homeless services possible.

All I can think is that somebody somewhere once bilked HUD out of a lot of homeless money so now we all have to pay.  Honestly, you would not believe the level of detail, the cross-checking, and the tricky little trip wires that can queer the whole funding package.  Homeless people lose resources because of tenths of a point.  Yipes.

Just venting.  Need to go sharpen my pencil now.

Enough Already

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

No kidding.

It’s the day before Election Day 2010.  I am nearly blinded by the flurry of idiocy – from all sides.  From Scott Walker’s accusations that Tom Barrett is a tax-raising fiend to Tom Barrett calling John Chianelli an unqualified crony of Scott Walker’s and on and on.  I’m not even going near any discussion of clocks or tables. 

Politics not only makes for strange bedfellows – it makes for desperate ones as well.  And what’s worse? Really?  Desperation – aka wanting to win at all costs – makes politicians do and say outrageous things.  Unbelievable things.  And say them over and over and over – until whatever support we may have felt for them melts into aggravation.

Yesterday, one of my sons said he was voting for Mickey Mouse.  “You can’t do that,” I said.  “You’ll just throw away your vote.”  “Yeah,” he says, “But what if a lot of people voted for Mickey Mouse and he won?  That’d be kind of interesting.  Having a cartoon character run things.”  (And just so you know, my son’s isn’t 9, he’s 25.  Pray he doesn’t represent the average young voter.)

But he raises a point.  The entire campaign has been cartoonish.  A lot of Wile E. Coyote running off the cliff.  A lot of mysterious packages being delivered by Acme Explosives Company. 

A lot of complete and total B.S. 

Enough already.  At least it’ll be over tomorrow.  And the mop-up can begin.  Oh well.