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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The ARMS Center Team Up to Fight Homelessness

On Thursday, March 20, members of MASSPIRG and The Arms Center attended a citywide lobby day at the statehouse. The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless sponsored the day’s events and the message was simple, “Get our families, our children, our people off the streets.” Census reports showed that over 10,500 families lived in shelters in 1999 and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness reports that the average age of a homeless person in America today is 9 years old. Despite these alarming statistics, Governor Romney, who states housing as a priority, allotted less than 1% of his 22 billion dollar budget proposal for housing and related programs.

At the beginning of the day, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless Robin Frost encouraged the over 560 attendees by stating, “do not allow elected officials to walk away from their responsibilities.” Co-sponsor of the event, Senator Fargo, then welcomed everyone by saying, “Welcome to Your House.” Fargo acknowledged “lack of affordable housing is creating misery across the Commonwealth” and even went as far as to say, “this issue constitutes child abuse, and it is shameless.” Another co-sponsor of the event, Senator Tucker, was short and to the point stating, “the voice of people who have no voice in the political system needs to be heard in this house,” she then added, “Today, you are going to hear that the state is broke, that there is no money – when you hear this, do not apologize for being here on behalf of the homeless. What is shameful is that good, intellectual, strategic minds have solved this problem, have known how to solve this problem for years. The dialogue and rhetoric needs to end, hold us (elected officials) accountable.”

Still, the highlight of the morning was when former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich took the podium. He was not shy nor did he sugar coat his opinions of where government is headed at the state and national level. He was blunt with statements like, “no decent society allows more and more of its people and families to go homeless.” He was honest in describing how “this problem is not going away – it’s growing.” And more than once he urged for government accountability, “We need to acknowledge who is being hurt and who is being let off the hook – who is bearing the brunt and who is not affected. Then we must ask ourselves, is this just?” He criticized the White House by noting, “in Washington we are giving HUGE, unprecedented tax breaks to people already at the top. This extreme gap between the rich and the poor is something we have never experienced and it is not only unjust, not merely scandalous, it is obscene.”

Reich turned to the crowd stating, “Today is an Opportunity. You are not powerless.” Yet he was also realistic and open about the uphill battle of creating change. He outlined three barriers to change that individuals and society must overcome in order to become organized and effective: denial, escapism, and feelings of hopelessness and cynicism. Reich told a story from 1936 when Franklin Delanor Roosevelt responded to many people telling him what action he must take on several issues by simply saying, “you must make me.” And that is exactly what the audience including members from the UMass community set out to do. UMass students talked with several elected officials, heard the claims of no money, and came back with facts and demands not only for affordable housing but for resources and support for homeless mothers, families, children and individuals. In the hallways, senators and congressional members were overwhelmed by the turnout and genuinely interested in what their voters had to say. I know that personally, walking the halls with hundreds of people committed to ending homelessness, left me feeling more empowered in our democratic system than I’ve felt in a long time.

Next month, on April 12, MASSPIRG and the ARMS Center will team up again to involve the UMass Community in a daylong service event and fundraiser against poverty and homelessness. The Hunger Cleanup will give students, faculty, and staff a chance to team up and overcome Reich’s three barriers to change by forming teams to volunteer at one of several local agencies. If you would like to be involved or volunteer for this event, or if you are interested in receiving updates on current poverty and housing legislation, please contact the MASSPIRG student office at 7-3866. Gandhi once wrote, “Poverty is Violence,” and now more than ever we need to take positive steps toward change in our community.