The Verse that Does Not Rhyme

Despite increasing public hostility, the homeless are talking back


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In the early 90's, the term 'compassion fatigue' surfaced to describe the apathy that had overcome people who no longer had it in them to shell out a dime for the bum on the subway. Today, our nation's homeless population would probably count itself lucky to be met with such indifference; while they are certainly used to being the object of public scorn, the homeless are now living in what can only be described as a state of siege.

Take New York, home to roughly 100,000 people with no place to live. Besides proposed budget cuts that could cut welfare spending by $345 million a year, The Economist (April 22, 1995) reports that 'goon squads' have been set up in New York City, where most of the state's homeless live, to beat up homeless people and move them out of the midtown district that is currently undergoing an image overhaul. Where these displaced are landing is a mystery, especially when you consider that similar budget cuts are occurring across the country, making the problem only worse.

Unfortunately these problems aren't restricted to urban areas. According to Pacific News Service (May 22, 1995) 'small rural towns are less homeless-friendly than metropolitan areas.' In the impoverished town of, Marysville, California, the City Council has considered everything from 'Greyhound Therapy' -- rounding up the homeless and busing them to Sacramento -- to making it illegal to give money to panhandlers to keeping the sprinklers on all night in city parks.

But despite these Dickensian scenarios, an interesting turn of events is starting to happen amongst the homeless themselves: They are starting to talk back, both in print and online. The National Coalition for the Homeless Web site features both text and audio clips of homeless people sharing their experiences. And in The Nation (May 1, 1995) former yuppie turned five-year homeless person Caverly Stringer defiantly rejects attempts by rubberneckers to paint him as a pathetic menace: 'I am the obscene coda to your Kodak-colored sing-along. The verse that does not rhyme. I am the spoiler in a last-ditch embrace of the mighty myth...I am a vagrant in paradise.

Original to Utne Reader Online