12 - The Michigan Daily - Orientation Edition 2006
Walk a mile in different shoes
Homeless for the holidays
WHITNEY DIBO ENTER ST AE LEFT
By JARED GOLDBERG
We take for granted the gifts blue-collar work-
ers and unions have given us. Since the University
cut its $1.4-million contract with the Coca-Cola
Company over winter break, critic after critic,
mostly on the conservative side, has come out of
the woodwork to complain.
"Under these circumstances, is it worth trashing
good, middle-class Michigan jobs for what even
members of the Coke coalition describe as a 'sym-
bolic victory?' I'm sure the soon-to-be laid off
Michigan workers will completely understand,"
wrote Frank Manley (I'd like to buy the world a
Coke, 01/17/06). "It's easy to sign a petition for
higher minimum wages as a way to end poverty,
a stop-gap policy that neglects the fundamental
issues behind structural poverty ... good works
are the sine qua non of basic activism," opines the
editorial board of The Michigan Review, the cam-
Itis easy to shrug offthe accomplishments ofstu-
dent activists for labor, especially if you don't share
their politics or are completely apathetic to their
cause. Recall last year when the Graduate Employ-
ee's Organization and the Lecturers' Employee
Organization held a campus walkout because the
University administration was being less than
compromising during contract negotiations. Then-
Engineering freshman Ann Griffin displayed her
sentiments with a single sign, photographed and
placed in the Daily for all to see: "GSIs: Get Your
Ass Back In Class!" How sympathetic.
But until all of us have to work in minimum-
wage jobs where the rules about fair labor practices
are often forgotten, we'll never know what it is like.
Until last summer, I never appreciated these things
either. I considered luxuries like a 10-minute break
for every 5 hours I worked inalienable rights.
Inalienable indeed. That particular summer I
worked as a dishwasher and food preparer at a
national restaurant chain, one that is known for
transforming outdoorsy treats such as s'mores
to urban delicacies. Being naive as usual, I
assumed the rules and rights that I had come to
rely on in previous jobs would apply. I could not
have been more wrong.
I was not allowed to take any breaks whatsoever,
though my shifts often lasted eight hours or more.
As I punched out one night, I took note of the time
on my punch-out slip of how long I had worked:
9 hours, 59 minutes. Food was not free, and if I
wanted any fountain drink, including tap water, I
had to ask the manager. The managers took breaks
often and could not be bothered when they did.
Realistically, my experiences don't even com-
pare to the murder of union leaders at Coke's
bottling plants in Colombia, the deaths of min-
ers in unsafe mines or the millions of workers
who don't make a living wage. Itis clear by these
examples that the regulations and rights that so
many fought for in decades past are never set in
stone. If we don't watch it, they could be robbed
from underneath our feet.
My mother, for much of her youth, did not look
favorably on unions. Whether it was their bureau-
cracy or the penchant some had for corruption,
she went through life with the attitude that unions
are not the best solution to labor problems. And
then she joined one.
As a social worker in Wayne County's Fam-
ily Independence Agency, she joined the state
employee's union, run through the UAW. When
she finally retired, she came through the experi-
ence on the opposite side from which she had
started. "When I saw how employers could take
advantage of workers in spite of their contracts,
I saw that a strong union is necessary to protect
workers' rights," she said.
How did she cometothis conclusion?Due tolaws
preventing state employees from going on strike,
she saw that her union was becoming increasingly
too weak and comfortable with the state. With a
weak union, she and her fellow workers couldn'tdo
anything as the state took more and more benefits
and rights away. Her weak union had no recourse to
help social workers when instances of violence and
threats became regular occurrences.
We can all criticize the anti-Coke movement,
GEO, LEO and other workers-rights campaigns. But
until we walk amile in their shoes, we'llnever know
the hardships many workers endure, the oppression
they face and the struggles they live through. And
until we do, our criticisms will be meaningless.
-Feb. 2, 2006
Goldberg is an LSA senior and a
member of the Daily's editorial board.
W little kid, the
idea of home-
lessness plagued me. I just
could not understand why
some people had to stand
outside in the blistering
Chicago winter while I got
to live in a warm apart-
ment with my parents. In
my eight-year-old head, it
just didn't make any sense.
I was too young, of course, to internalize the
socioeconomic reality of this country or the harsh
tradeoffs of a capitalist system. I did not yet know
the problems of affordable housing, minimum wage,
employment opportunity and all the other roadblocks
to the American Dream. All I understood was that
these people didn't have a place to sleep.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a startling
37 million Americans currently live in poverty, and
the average family is a dangerous three paychecks
away from homelessness. These are shameful sta-
tistics from one of the world's wealthiest countries.
Right here in Washtenaw County, 2,756 people will
experience homelessness each year, with 41 people
becoming homeless in any given week.
For me, Ann Arbor is where I go to school, where
I have my first apartment, where I go to football
games and write for the paper. I have a home here,
and I have a home in Chicago where I'll go for the
holidays. But for too many people, Ann Arbor does
not mean home or opportunity - it means a lack of
affordable housing, a tough job market and a really,
really cold winter.
The familiar faces we see around campus are
often not representative of Ann Arbor's larger home-
less population. There are many people we never
see, living just a few blocks away from campus at
the Robert J. Delonis Center. Each night the Delo-
nis Center can accommodate 50 people in its regular
shelter and another 25 in a rotating shelter. During
the winter months, an additional 50 can fit inside its
"warming center" - a room with chairs and blan-
kets but no beds. Shelter director Ruth Shabazz says
the shelter is nearly full to capacity every night.
I know as well as any University student that it's
difficult to make time to volunteer amidst the never-
ending demands of schoolwork. But as the perilous
Michigan winter sets in, maybe we should all make
a New Year's resolution to find the time. The Uni-
versity community has not only the responsibility
but also the manpower to really make a difference in
Ann Arbor's fight against homelessness.
No matter what your interests or how much time
you are willing to commit,there are hundreds of ways
to get involved. Many students aren't even aware that
places to volunteer exist right in their own backyard
LIVE ON YOUR FEET
-steps away from the academic buildings, bars and
restaurants we all so regularly frequent.
The Delonis Center is a good place to start. A truly
incredible facility, the shelter provides basics like
warm showers, laundry and a place to sleep -while
also offering job counseling, substance abuse treat-
ment and on-site medical care. Volunteers go through
a short four-hour training session, and then can sign
up for shifts almost anytime of the day.
There is also the Ozone House -a crisis support
and housing agency for youth who have run away,
become homeless or found themselves in unsafe or
unstable situations. Volunteers can help out around
the house or work the crisis hotline after a two-week
intensive training program. The next volunteer
training date is right around the corner on Jan. 9 -
perfect timing for anyone who wants to make good
on that New Year's resolution.
Or if you think you're better off working with
kids, SOS Community Services runs the Time 4
Tots program - a daycare center that provides a
safe, nurturing environment for homeless children
from infancy through preschool while their parents
are searching for housing or employment or getting
treatment for substance abuse.
These are just a few of the many organizations that
need student volunteers. If you wanta complete list,
just go on www.volunteer-connection.org and you'll
find a directory of all community service opportuni-
ties in Ann Arbor. The possibilities are endless.
As for day-to-day interaction with people living
in poverty, it's easy to become desensitized when
walking to and from Angell Hall. When I visited
the Delonis center earlier this week, I asked vol-
unteer coordinator Jennifer Crippin what she does
when panhandlers ask for money: "Whether you
give a dollar or not," she said, "passing along infor-
mation about the shelter in your neighborhood is
important." It's a personal choice whether or not to
give, butpointing a person in the right direction (in
this case, toward the Delonis Center) could make a
world of difference.
Time, however, can be a more valuable currency
than money. Interaction fosters understanding, and
in working closely with the homeless community
we can begin to breakdown stereotypes surrounding
homelessness in Ann Arbor. As most will find intheir
first few hours of volunteering, these people are not
stereotypes or statistics. Shelter director Ruth Shaba-
zz said it well: "The challenge in life is to get beyond
stereotypes and get to know people as people."
Maybe we should put that on our New Year'sres-
olution list too - right above volunteering time in
Ann Arbor next semester.
-Dec. 9, 2005
Dibo is a member ofthe Daily's editorial board. She
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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