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Why do they
Bob Harris, a member of the
Homeless Action Committee
(HAC) who just recently moved
into an apartment after an
extended period of homelessness,
was trying to give the city's
leaders a feel for what it's like to
be without a home here. He
described degrading conditions,
long lines, inedible food - the
stuff of poverty.
When he had finished, council
member Terry Martin had a
question for him: "Sounds like
this town is not very hospitable to
you, Mr. Harris," she said. "Why
do you stay here?"
When activists from the
Homeless Action Committee
(HAC) and other community
members finally got the meeting
they wanted with Ann Arbor City
Council last week, they were not
surprised by what they heard, or
at least not by most of it.
There were expressions of
concern, of course, and someone
had the idea of forming a
committee to look into the
problem which stares into the
face of anyone who lives in Ann
Arbor: homelessness - the lack
of affordable and low income
HAC members are used to
being given the run-around by
city government; used to
watching the city make plans for
more parking garages while the
number of people in Ann Arbor
who don't have a place to live
climbs toward 2,000 and beyond.
But this was too much.
"I felt that she was grossly
wrong," Harris told me later. "To
me that was a personal attack."
When contacted by phone,
however, Martin insisted. As far
as she was concerned, Harris was
a malcontent incapable of
appreciating the hospitality
offered here. She noted that this
problem of not being satisfied had
apparently been with Harris for
quite a while, as he had "sampled
the hospitality of
several other cities,"
according to her.
"Where are these
people coming from?"
Martin went on. "Are
we responsible - the
city taxpayers - for
everybody who walks
across the city border I
and says, 'I want to live
in Ann Arbor?"' Phil
Providing for the
homeless by spending Coh
more on affordable
housing, she said,
would increase taxes, leading to
"a turnover of well-established
'people who say, 'I can't live here
"It's robbing Peter to pay Paul,
in a sense," she declared.
Harris has, by the way, also
been homeless in Detroit,
Brighton and Howell, but he has
been an Ann Arbor resident for
the last five years.
"Why make the point that I
don't like this town?" he asked.
"I never said that. It's the same
problem throughout the United
States. I just happened to slam
Ann Arbor because I live in Ann
Arbor - I've lived here for a long
The tendency to blame
homeless people - and poor
people in general - for their
condition is as old and as
widespread as the problem itself.
But in an age which has seen such
an incredible increase in the
number of people on the streets,
the rhetoric against them has
taken a definite turn for the
Myron Magnet, an editor of
Fortune magazine and one of the
bigwigs at the Manhattan
Institute for Policy Research,
wrote a vicious attack against the
on the Op-Ed page of
last Friday's New York
Old Myron wanted
to dispel the ugly
rumor that the rise in
been the result of
things like 75 percent
cuts in federal
I ~3housing programs
since 1981, the
fn decline of the real
value of the
gentrification and so on.
"Far from being the index of
the nation's turpitude," he wrote,
"the homeless are an
encyclopedia of social pathology
and mental disorder." He warned
of too much lenience toward
"people ruining their lives
through drink or drugs."
Myron could do well to
examine some of the research
published by the National Law
Center on Homelessness and
Poverty, in Washington, D.C.:
As many as 3 million people
may now be homeless; including
500,000 children. According to a
recent MIT study, without action
18 million will be homeless by
Members of families, the
fastest growing group among the
homeless, now make up 40
percent of the total homeless
* 25-30 percent have jobs, but
don't earn enough to pay for an
30 percent are veterans.
Only 25 percent have mental
Look: If all the homeless
people were either crazy, drunk or
on drugs, the rest of society
wouldn't have any less obligation
to address the problem. But the
people who benefit from others'
poverty still attempt to paint this
picture. Why? Because the
problems of alcoholism, drug ad-
diction and care for the mentally
disabled can be isolated -
compartmentalized into problems
with less threatening solutions -
instead of being seen as parts of a
single problem: poverty.
And if the homeless were all lazy
and didn't want to work, we
would still need to alleviate the
problems which led to these
attitudes in the first place.
We know there are more
homeless people now than there
were 10 years ago, so something
(but not human nature) must
have changed. Yet we're steered
toward this explanation because it
once again propels us away from
any sort of broader understanding.
So let's face it: people are
homeless because they are poor.
People are poor because other
people are rich. Some people get
to be rich and other people are
forced to be poor.
So what do we do about it?
You tell me.
The performance lineup is
equally diverse, featuring African
American, Native American, and
Persian dance; Irish American
songs; labor and "differently-
abled" theater; and several
unique poetry readings.
Stephanie Ozer and Hassan
Newash will recite Israeli and
Palestinian poetry while Latino
and African American verse will
be read by Trinidad Sanchez.
Also, Cui Shu Quin will read
poetry from Tiananmen Square in
Chinese which Bryant will
translate into English. Raymond
assures this portion of the show
will be moving.
"I'll tell you, you will cry," she
said. "You will cry." The poetry is
set to music and Raymond says it
paints a much different picture of
the massacre than that which was
portrayed in the media.
"We saw it and we cried, we
were moved. I was shaking," she
said. "When you actually hear
what they wanted, what they
were fighting for, you're blown
Not only do the performances
and workshops focus on diverse
areas of the globe but they center
on areas where conflict is
presently occurring. "We wanted
to, as a group, make a statement
about peace and cultural
diversity," Bryant said.
But, she added, the organizers
- primarily herself and Raymond
- did not want to stop there.
"Basically, everyone is gearing
their presentation toward peace:
peace-making and peaceful
resolution. They are focusing on
cultural diversity and cultural
And, Raymond emphasizes, one
of the best ways to bring these
issues to people's attention is
through the arts. As an artist,
poet, and student in the School of
Natural Resources, she is quick to
realize the ways art can affect
areas of political concern
including, but not limited to, the
"I use arts, and all arts -
theater, poetry, music - as being
able to advocate political issues,
not just environmental issues but
all issues of social justice," she
said. This method is successful,
she says, because it is accessible.
"I think one thing about the arts
is art is more approachable than
someone standing up there and
yelling," she said, using an
example of an upcoming
Common Ground play titled
"Mother Tongue" where a Black
woman and a white woman meet,
talk about, and then actually
become Sojourner Truth and
"If you hear Sojourner Truth, it
is a lot more interesting than
hearing a professor lecture about
Sojourner Truth. It's three-
dimensional," she said. And it is
in the three dimensions of the
theater where people can see, feel
and hear the call to social action.
"We're not traditional theater,
we're alternative theater,"
Raymond said. "We believe in
social change and our political
beliefs. The question is how do
you make people feel it...One of
the ways is to use the arts. If you
use the arts you can reach people
without alienating them."
ANN ARBOR'S PRIM
The Abby -The Algonuquin -The Dean -7e 7e m*'-ihc
3mY io,515 E. Lawrence* 326 E. Mad ison* '^
520 Packard - Arbor Forest - Oak Terrace -517 Catherine - 7 wTi
511 Hoover-nA Kingsey-727 S. Forest
Now leasing for fall 1990 . Call 76
Prime Student Housing, inc
610 Church Street
to be su
r """ . r- =i nr nr m m m a i ma.
1. ni" nI k ni' 1 " j n t r r r
Why are we here? At Michigan, I mean.
At high school orientation we
saw a movie entitled The Best Days
of Your Life... So Far. In the film a
comedian delivers an inspirational
monologue about the joys of
dating, teachers, and acne, meant
to get us all goosed up about how
wonderful the next four years
were going to be.
orientation we were
told by someone paid P
to be overzealous that
we would wait in a lot
I've been doing a T O,
lot of reflecting lately
on whether or not these past three
and a half years in college have
been, will be, or were not the best
days of my life... so far.
I returned to school this
semester with the attitude that my
last four months at college were,if
anything, going to be fun. Yes this
was going to be the semester
when the id takes
K over. To my surprise.
every other second-
seemed to have
returned with the
My plan seemed
foolproof. Just think: nights at the
bar, basketball games, road trips,
spring break, parties, lunches at
Oaza, late nights at the Slug,
mornings after at Angelo's, Sunday
nights around the Trv watching The
Simpsons, long discussions about
all the people we learned to hate
after three years... yes, this was the
semester of fun.
Oh, and it was going to be the
semester that we seniors go to all
those more avant garde places
were we never hang out. We were
going to break out of the Rick's
and Charlie's cycle. Del Rio, Bird
of Paradise, Full Moon, Uno's,
O'Sullivan's, Casey's, Chi-Chi's
(well at least it's ethnic), Quality
Bar - now that we had real valid
IDs, no bar was out of the
question. There was even talk of
rediscovering Dooley's, but that
could probably be dismissed as
If we were at the United
Nations we might have declared
this the International Semester of
So what happened?
Granted classes have started,
but we're seniors! We're
supposedly taking blow-offs.
Remember four years ago, when
after you got accepted into college,
you dropped physics and
trigonometry and picked up home
ec and wood shop. This is the
semester to take all those classes
your parents think aren't worth
their tuition dollars.
I guess this column is intended
to be a call to arms, not just for
seniors, but for everybody. Let'sfN
make college fun. i
I've used the word fun
repeatedly and I don't intend fun
to mean only going to the bars.
Fun can come in any shape and
size, all it takes is a little effort. If
everyone took one percent of the
WEEKEND Felmy 2,1990