Hanging around in the cloud…

Archive for March, 2011

Overcoming Invisibility

Unless a middle aged woman is hot, she is virtually invisible in society.   My hottie days are so gone.  Sigh.

I just read this great essay written by a college student who participated in a social experiment in Washington D.C. last year.

This brought about one of those moments of clarity where I knew why 1) the media hardly mentions homelessness 2) I look away and ignore panhandlers and 3) that I am at risk for homelessness as are millions of other Americans.

I have toyed with the idea for a couple of months of a project for Remix Radio where I talk to homeless people and put together a collage of their responses to a particular prompt.  So now this idea needs to develop into a plan or just become one of those “wudda, cudda, shudda” things that never happen.  I have all of the tools to do the Remix Radio piece, but I think I should do more than that.

But, for now, I will start with my “Overcoming Invisibility” project, where I overcome my own invisibility by making homeless people on the streets of Spokane visible by being heard.  Together, we will be seen and heard on this new mostly internet radio, but here in Spokane, Remix Radio is broadcast on 90.3 FM, at moderate power.

A short, edited version will likely air on our local Morning Edition show as well, with a little luck and timing, to a huge regional audience.

Spokane has a lot of homeless people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.   When it gets down in the single digits and below zero, the charity and agency sector opens up warming shelters, giving the agents involved a chance to count how many souls show up in the evening.  (They have to stay outside all day for some reason).  But at 6 p.m., when the sidewalks are all rolled up, they let them in.  I am going to find out how many showed up this winter.

Spokane is sort of a bust/bust town with a persistent down job market layered over booming education, professional services,  and healthcare industries that many residents can’t afford unless it is the state or charity version:  Social and Health Services, Public Schools, and low income clinics.  We have a lot of doctors,  nurses, lawyers, MSWs, and teachers around here.  I see a few very rich types, but only a handful, and they don’t mingle with the professionals much.  But I see poverty everywhere I look, every single day.  We are a poor town with no excuses.

(Source:  City of Spokane)

That’s twenty percent of Spokane’s population in poverty, and 9% in abject poverty.   America is fast becoming a third world country, and in Spokane it shows.

It shows in housing.  Sad old rental houses that are impossible to heat, packed with renters and all of their junk piled up in the yard and their junker cars parked at the curb.  Run down apartments full of single mothers and groups of young people “doubling up”.  Apparently doubling up, or living with friends and relatives is an indicator of being at risk for homelessness.  So is unemployment, not having insurance (car or health), and lack of education.

And it shows in traffic.  People camp out at intersections with signs begging for “anything”.  They always look cold, wet, and hungry.  I’m sure they are.  I see too many tatty old cars from the 70s and 80s that barely run driven by young moms with carloads of toddlers and children (not in car seats, jumping all over with the teenage mothers trying to get them to sit down and drive at the same time), or grungy looking men or boys flipping cigarettes out the window, or anyone for that matter, that can barely afford to drive at all.   They often don’t wear seat belts, they don’t have the mandatory car insurance, and the tabs are usually expired.   There is a lot of siphoning lately as gas prices soar.

And in the streets, gangs of homeless kids.   Too many miserable kids.  They are the aggressive panhandlers I ignore, because they get rough with old ladies sometimes.  I’m not that old, but I am gimpy, and I can’t have anyone grab me or I’ll just collapse.    So I will have to approach this demographic of homeless with caution when the time comes.