Monday, May 21 , 2018, 1:16 am | Fair 59º


Ken Williams: To Silence the Voice of Protest

It doesn't do anyone any good to attack those who are least capable of helping themselves

I find it both fascinating and extremely disturbing that some people find my writings so threatening that they feel the need to silence my voice. A free press and the right to free speech are the cornerstones of a democracy. While others must fight against the repressive forces of a police state, here we engage in peaceful debate, argue points of view with the knowledge that this is how we engage our differences in a democracy.

Apparently, some find it preferable that I not engage in this fundamental right. Some, instead of arguing the merits — or lack there of — of my writings, simply want to see me silenced. This, of course, I can’t and will not do.

Maybe a better tack would be to find ways to do away with this 21st-century plague of people living on our streets, without shelter, adequate food or a hope for a better tomorrow than to kill the messenger.

Or maybe I have it wrong. Maybe they find objectionable my writings on war. Maybe if we are to live in a state of permanent war then the true cost of it needs to remain hidden.

Whatever the reason, the powerful always have a reason to silence those who challenge the status quo. And those who engage to stand with the poor and against war will continue to do so.

Reasons Why

It was cold and dreary — another winter day in a wet season that refused to let go of the choke hold that it held on the city. My friend and I stood before a shelter, hands stuffed deep into coat pockets for warmth.

Something troubled my friend. Her eyes bore into mine, refusing to let my stare wander off. They were a darker brown and pushed deeper into her anxious face than usual. She sniffled, stiffened and then told me that she had breast cancer. Her voice cracked but refused to break. She may be small in stature, but she possessed a big heart. She bore this devastating and potentially deadly news with greater strength and more composure than I would have.

Moments before that, another woman, without a home, came up and informed me that Roger had died. She said that to the very end he had kind thoughts of me and our friendship, and how I had helped him. This is the ying and yang of life — and death. Time goes forward (almost wrote progresses), but sometimes, time condemns.

The homeless are under attack. We are told that there are the good homeless — those deserving of help. We are also told that there are the bad homeless — the ones who more likely than not die quietly among us on the streets.

Who are the friends of these forgotten poor? The homeless who no one wants. The ones who can’t with frantic hands hold onto the ever-increasing spinning merry-go-round and are thrown off. The ones who don’t fit neatly into tidy categories and are told they don’t belong — the ones too sick or too damaged with hideous symptoms of their diseases to engage these ever more punitive and complicated games. They are the ones who are told to hit the road because they skew statistics toward the negative.

If we help only those who can accept help and can be immediately placed, then what are we to do with those left on the streets? They become the victims of the lifeboat ethics that now hold the high ground. They are the ones to die on our streets.

I — we — have been here before. At times our compassion is the order of the day. Then the clock advances and time turns, and everyone scrambles to put more and more roadblocks, more and more hurdles before the wounded on the streets to fall victim to. During these dark times we huddle down, draw inward to ward off the blows and somehow survive. Some talk like the homeless want to be without shelter, food, clothing and security, that we need to punish them to bring them to their senses. Where is the blame of a failed mental health delivery system? Why do the bankers who threw this county into the Great Recession and millions out of their jobs get a free pass?

According to the newest statistics, 20 percent of the houses in Florida stand vacant — vacant! — while millions of people spend at least part of the year in homeless shelters or on the streets. Many of those houses were once homes where families resided before greed and fear threw them out. But of course, it is their fault somehow.

We need to remember that the homeless are relatively new to our streets. It has been only in the past 30 years that this modern horror story has played out on streets. A future article will cover some of the local reasons why this came to pass.

— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years. His writings and opinions reflect only his personal views. He does not speak as a representative for or on behalf of any organization with which he may be affiliated. He is the author of China White and Shattered Dreams, A Story of the Streets. He has just completed his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor.

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