The "Homeless"????

Dateline: Sat 28 Jul 2007

Matt Tully gets huzzahs for writing so many hard-hitting columns of late. He's taken off his muzzle and gone after politicians, crime, property taxes. Matt is on the front lines; he lives in the "old city." He was the reporter in the newsroom who noticed a spike in crime in Indy in 2006 before the paper ever officially documented it. The fact that his neighbor's car was hijacked, later on, hammered home his points. He's been a real advocate for city life.

That said, I wish he would take a serious look at the so-called homeless, the subject of his Friday column. His approach is man on the street; he promises interviews and personal stories of some of the men floating around Downtown. Do I smell Dennis Ryerson? "Why don't you go talk to some of these people...I almost had my Sullivan's takeout snatched away the other day!"

The real story, I believe, is the cottage industry in Indy that has sprung up around the "homeless," which itself is not even a viable name. Anybody who wants to work a program and climb out of the hole can find a shelter or a church to sponsor him; the "homeless" can be housed, find work, etc. And I don't want to hear any whining about having a prison record; there are jobs, if righteous people want them. And plenty willing to help.

The real issue is that we have a transient population -- we used to call them bums, tramps or hoboes -- who choose to live underground. Fine and good; let a million "Big Rock Candy Mountains" live. This is a genuine subculture, it's as old as the New Testament, and it ain't going to go away.

What I resent, then, are the public monies poured into homeless programs, like the infamous "Blueprint for the Homeless" put forth by the Mayor, and CHIP, The Coalition for Homeless Intervention Prevention. CHIP is the real scam, set up so that some fat cat who is favored by whatever administration is in power can nab a big-bucks job, do studies and pontificate about the "homeless."

Tully might want to write about all the money wasted, all the programs that have been drained away, all the free meals given out -- and all the while, the "homeless" population remains static. Or the fact that Wheeler Mission has instituted new rules; you can't hang out in the dayroom if you aren't in their program. Lighthouse Mission, I am told, has also moved out of Downtown. There's the story. Are these traditional programs being overwhelmed? Where is Guliani when you need him?

My own experience is that many street people are skilled con artists and worse; they are working the system. A few years ago, the cops cracked down on the Downtown begging, etc. The result is that the the scams have gotten more inventive. I've thrice been hit up at intersections by women in "stalled" cars claiming to need gas money. One woman had the audacity to drive up next to us at a stoplight and ask for gas dough. Another dodge is a woman whose car is stalled at an I-465 entrance. I whipped out my cell phone, but no, she doesn't want you to call for help. She just wants your cash.

The larger point: for the vast majority, homelessness is a choice. Sleeping in abandoned garages and under bridges is a way of life. Yet bleeding hearts, who can't stop the war in Iraq and are still frustrated by a failed war on poverty, are easy touches. I would hope Matt Tully would not fall in that category. He needs to do some real reporting on this story, not rely on bullshit street anecdotes.

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