August 28, 2002
Grate Minds Think Alike

Sasha "La Blogatrice" (that would be Sasha Blogatrix in Latin) writes:

BOY CUOMO WATCH: The Boy has decided that the best way to draw attention to the problem of the homeless in New York is to spend a night in a homeless shelter.

So, by thus highlighting the problem, he manages to exacerbate it at the same time. Nice going, Andy.

Fifteen years ago, a bunch of politicians and celebrities, including Cuomo's brother-in-law, then-congressman Joe Kennedy, staged the "Grate American Sleep-Out", in which they spent a night sleeping on heating grates near the U.S. Capitol to show their compassion for the poor homeless people who slept there every night. Or rather, every night but one: some of the real homeless had to go find new places to sleep on short notice, once they found the celebrities and their TV crews hogging all the best grates.

I know it was fifteen years ago because I still have on my hard drive a copy of the letter I sent to the Washington Post. (Not the same hard drive, of course: it's been copied from one to another at least three times. I'm a bit of an intellectual packrat.) Here is what I sent them, dated March 5, 1987:

Dear Sirs,

It appears to me that the movie stars, politicians, and other participants in the "Grate American Sleep-Out" were going about their self-appointed task of helping the homeless in exactly the wrong way.

Instead of sleeping on a grate himself, each participant should have invited a homeless person to spend the night at his house: a home-cooked dinner, a shave and a hot shower, a run through the washer and dryer of all the homeless person's clothes, a spare bed or couch to sleep on, a stack of waffles for breakfast, and a bag of ham sandwiches and apples for lunch the next day: all these would have cost the donor very little and helped the recipient a great deal. (As it is, all the celebrities accomplished was to hog some of the best heating grates for themselves and their goose-down sleeping bags, so the homeless were actually worse off than they would have been without the "Sleep-In".)

If this "Adopt-a-Bum" policy were extended to a week or more, it might even be enough to get the homeless person into physical, psychological, and sartorial condition to apply for an entry-level job. Even if it didn't, it would give him a nice break from the rigors of life on the streets.

The resources are available: although there are hundreds of homeless in D.C., there are tens of thousands of compassionate, caring liberals with high salaries and spare bedrooms: Congressman Kennedy, with his unusually large reservoirs of compassion and inherited wealth, could probably take in two or three.

Perhaps the best feature of my plan is that it would give the celebrities and other compassionate persons a chance to refute two vulgar conservative notions at once: the notion that most "street people" are winos, drug addicts, criminals, or dangerous psychopaths, who could not be safely admitted to any respectable home, and the notion that compassionate liberals are more interested in getting their pictures in the paper and forcing other people to pay to help the unfortunate than in actually helping anyone themselves.

(I haven't tried out my plan myself, but I make far less money than any of the compassionate persons, have no spare bed or couch, and never, never use the existence of the homeless as an argument to abuse my fellow citizens.)

Of course that was not what the Post printed: they left out all the best parts, about half the letter, and edited the rest to make it sound stupider. Unfortunately, the clipping is in a storeroom 600 miles away at the moment, so I can't do a line-by-line comparison, but I do recall that they cut out the mention of goose down in the second paragraph.

One huge advantage of blogging is that we can now write these things without the unpleasant feeling that we are most likely wasting our time, since no one but close friends will ever read them. We are no longer at the mercy of some supercilious subeditor and his scissors, prejudices, and (most often) wastebasket.

Tangential Note:

How the mighty have fallen! Joe Kennedy the former congressman isn't even the first "Joe Kennedy" on Google: a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays beats him out for the top spot (of "approximately 566,000").

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 28, 2002 11:55 PM

sounds like a great plan. The benefit to the average homeless would be strictly temporary, but the effects on the clueless "liberals" might be far longer lasting...

Posted by: markm on August 31, 2002 09:56 PM