Clear and Present Danger
Owing to political paralysis, the Minnesota state government shutdown. As a consequence, Judge Gearin and Special Master Blatz are reviewing funding requests for core government services.
Not surprisingly, with money on the table threatened by the shutdown, nonprofit groups suddenly claim their services are “core government services”.
In my legal filings I argued that “The shelter system operated by Catholic Charities works hand in glove with the state. ”
Judge Bruce Peterson, in his order of October 14, 2010, found that Catholic Charities was not a state actor. Judge Peterson apparently gave no weight to Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak’s statement that, “What we did with that was we coordinated all these services together and put a phenomenal person named Cathy Ten Broeke in charge of all that laid out a multi-point program that one by one by one we’ve been executing.”
Yet in the most recent funding actions before Judge Gearin, the Uptake’s live testimony of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless stated unequivocally that, “Providing services that keep Minnesotans sheltered or in housing is a core function of the state.”
Many of these services are provided by groups and organizations like Catholic Charities. In opposition to the impact of the shutdown, Catholic Charities filings are featured prominently on the page of the Minnesota Coalition of the Homeless web page.
Apparently, these groups are private actors when it comes to assertions of freedom, but state actors when it comes to assertions of funding. The system begins to resemble a system designed more to maintain homelessness funding than address the problem of homelessness. Assigning accountability is complicated by the myriad of entities involved. No entity wants to claim to be in charge.
Another key claim I raised in my lawsuit, which was dismissed summarily by Judge Peterson, was the claim that Catholic Charities claims of providing dignity to its clients were fraudulent. The claim that these services are providing dignity was also made by the Minnesota Coalition of Homelessness during the oral arguments to Judge Gearin.
Nevertheless, Judge Peterson and Catholic Charities combated my fraud claim by relying on Bernstein v. Extendicare Services, 607 F.Supp. 2D 1027, (2009), where the court found these statements constituted mere “puffery” and were therefore non-actionable.
In my experiences, I personally found some shelters so bad that at times I chose to sleep outside. If you look at the handout provided to Judge Gearin by the MCH, you will note that they explain that the state grants about $688,000 to provide shelter to approximately 3,980 people. I’ll let you do the math.
Nevertheless, we see once again that “dignity” is a word these groups use freely when their funding is threatened- and why not? After all, it is legally protected puffery.
I find the sudden decision of Catholic Charities to proclaim itself a core government service to be at complete odds with their claims of being a private actor in my case. I find the recent decision by Judge Gearin that Catholic Charities is a core government service is irreconcilable with the decision of Judge Peterson’s decision that they are not a state actor.
A few additional observations are worth making.
Notably absent from the recent core-government functions hearings before Judge Gearin were two groups. First, Catholic Charities did not make a sworn oral argument before the judge. I suppose the affidavit of Tracy Berglund in my case would prove too problematic for Catholic Charities.
The second group was, in fact, the homeless themselves. In watching the testimony of the homeless coalition at Uptake, I noticed that blind people who were to testify on behalf of cuts to their services showed up. Nevertheless, despite the claim that many thousands of homeless would be impacted, the oral arguments did not present the live testimony of a single homeless person.
To me, the fact that they could not produce a single stooge to mutter vaguely about the value of the services, is a statement in itself. This suggests that the homeless themselves are aware they are nothing but human shields used in a game to fund nonprofits rather than real beneficiaries of services.
If this statement seems harsh, consider the following statement from TCDailyplanet:
“Shelters are horrible places,” Catholic Charities director of communications Rebecca Lentz said. “We run shelters because the alternative is having people die on the streets.”
In choosing between staying at a shelter like Safebay or sleeping in a park in fair weather, the park has the upper hand. It’s a choice I’ve made. Maintaining the shelter system with funding may make it much more difficult for the homeless to make that choice. I refer here to the (subsequently vacated) Jones v. City of Los Angeles case.
The city will largely maintain its “benevolent” practice of not pursuing the prosecution of homeless- in order to save money. Most homeless live with with random searches and seizures and adhere to a regimented lifestyle without the benefit of real rights.
The cynical use of charities creates a charitable veil that covers the harsh and ugly truth. Hiding behind socially acceptable symbols, like the cross, groups are able to perpetuate far more harm than they would if they had to openly don the mask of the state or a corporation. The symbol allows for the unquestioning social acceptance that the groups are well meaning- even if they are not. If a corporation, like Haliburton, tried to run a homeless operation the same way Salvation Army ran Safebay, there would be no tolerance for it. Yet these same conditions are tolerated when run by a nonprofit.
It should also be noted that the coalition’s characterization of the homeless as chemically dependent and mental ill probably stems from the fact that one can secure better living conditions by claiming to have these problems. (I will not digress into a side discussion of mental health funding incentives to warehouse people without need or benefit, but I will refer you to the U.S. Rep. Tim Walz video.)
Again, if it seems harsh, consider the following from Minnpost:
“We’re not sheltering mentally ill people, we’re creating them. All of their anxieties, any of those conditions of mental health deteriorate under poor conditions,” said Nilsson, a soft-spoken woman.
My own recent experiences in homelessness stemmed from the simple wish to express my love for Eliza Dushku which was construed as a mental illness. Did Dante not write for Beatrice?
Over the course of the last few YEARS, I have lost many things including a car as well as my freedoms. Many people, who were former friends and family, have become enemies.
My efforts have been peaceful and democratic in nature. Camus reminds me that “Violence is never justified.”
My attempts at raising serious interests with wholly grassroots democratic methods has been a failure. My blog has been the subject of constant ridicule. My posts to various social networking sites have been censored or overlooked by the so-called “slacktivists”. My press releases have been ignored. My testimony before the Minnesota legislature appears to have been ignored. My lawsuit against Catholic Charities has been summarily dismissed. My suggestions to provide homeless individuals, rather than organizations, with the direct relief of Chromebooks, has gone nowhere. Nevertheless, the systemic subversion of democracy I experienced, constitutes a clear and present danger to everyone’s freedom.
For all my efforts, the only thing I really have to show for it, is the mutilated corpse of democracy and the video game I made about my experiences.
I watch now with the interest of an exile at the events unfolding in Minnesota. I see a shutdown in which access to public restrooms is restricted, alcohol is becoming scarce, state parks are closed, individual economic opportunities are being undermined by policies or arbitrary and capricious judicial holdings- and it lightly mirrors the experience of homelessness.
It is quite possible that social control policies are tested on the poor before being implemented on the wider population in softer versions. In any event, many people chose to ignore my experiences in homelessness which I reported on my blog. As the events continue to unfold in Minnesota, I sometimes wonder what these people will do now.
From exile, however, I do not wonder what I will do. I will live like my namesake, somewhat unpredictably, with flashes of brilliance, and always expressing my love for Eliza Dushku.