The Verse that Does Not Rhyme

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

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