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Powerful opinion piece by homeless man in latest Homeward Street Journal

There is very powerful, brilliant and ferocious piece in the current bi-monthly [Mar & Apr, 2016] issue of Homeward Street Journal by Charles Patrick Smith, titled “Letter from the Redding Jail.”

Smith introduces himself, telling us that he is “a middle-aged transient … [who doesn’t] have much in the way of education, [but he hopes to be] able to convey an opinion from an entirely unheard perspective [to us, his readers, about what homelessness is like for him], his loving companion, and an army of hollow, broken, beaten, molested, raped, addicted, crazy, displaced street people who are his tribe.”

Nothing I can write could substitute for the stunning whole of Smith’s message, so I encourage those of you who have read up to this point to shut down your tech toy or whatever other devise you are using to read my [Tom Armstrong’s] words and, instead find a copy of the current Homeward Street Journal from a homeless distributor, downtown.  Another source of Smith’s work, in its first, longer version, can be found in the Redding Record Searchlight, under the title "Charles Patrick Smith: Views from the street."  <--click link!

Since my name is Thomas -- as in "Doubting Thomas" -- I, of course, have some nits to pick with what all Charles Patrick Smith writes.

I do think that statistics gatherers and others who try to see the broad view of what's being done and can be done to "fix the homeless problem" or, as I prefer to say it, "attend to the injustice," have a vital role.  But, yes, the voices from the street need to be heard. Absent their voices, homeless people are totally misconstrued by the general public. The homeless-charity executives often think that they can serve as the voice to speak on behalf of homeless folk, but they simply can't. The executives can add their voices by speaking about what they righteously believe are homeless-people's needs, but they cannot speak for the experiences homeless people have and how they feel about their situation.

Also quite brilliant, filling the back page of the current issue of Homeless Street Journal, is a long poem by Cat Williams, titled “Speaking of Steel.” It is about a series of historic incidents where miners (or others) rose up to contest the dire conditions of their employment that spectacularly enriched steel barons and others. Many strings of descriptive words in Williams’ stanzas are powerful in conveying a sense of menace or hopelessness.

Here, one short powerful stanza:
those who wield
the gloves of god
the sapphire fire
the iron spars like frost above the boil of slag
half men half beast
in the hell of their own
With respect to one issue that Charles Patrick Smith delves into – representations of homelessness that journalist and others present to readers – I have to say that the Sacramento Bee, to its great credit, has brought us more than a few powerful articles in the last year+ that tell us the unique stories of troubled and suffering Sacramento homeless people. The Bee stories have been illuminating. Kudos to reporters Ryan Lillis, Cynthia Hubert, Erika Davis and others.

Contrariwise, the Sacramento News & Review reporters don't get out of their spiffy office much. I'm not sure that SNR reporters would know a homeless person if he/she walked up to the reporter and introduced his/her self, saying, "Hi, I'm homeless."


Unknown said…
Thomas, Very grateful for the positive review! I think we should include more articles from people that have experience homelessness first hand and currently. I heard a reading of that poem last night and was blown away. I remembered, in particular, that exact same phrase you pointed out.
Anonymous said…
I understand that homelessness is a problem and my heart goes out to the people who have ended up on the street due to abuse but try having homeless people break into your property and damage it. Our home is surrounded on three out of four sides by people who tear our fences down, throw garbage at our dog when she barks, leave hypodermic needless in the street and defecate on the sidewalk. The pot smoke and fighting at all hours of the night also mean we can't leave our windows open when the weather's nice.

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