Wednesday October 20th 2021

Keep citizen journalism alive!




‘Peace House Community Journal’ Archives

Wouldn’t it be Good? Yeah, But it Isn’t

By MARTI MALTBY Those of you who have read these columns regularly have probably noticed that I like quoting songs, books, plays and anything else that strikes me. Yesterday I watched a clip from the Live Aid concert in 1985 and heard Nik Kershaw sing “Wouldn’t It Be Good”. I don’t know what he had in mind when he wrote the song, but on that day the song took on new meaning. Live Aid was, after all, a worldwide fundraiser to deal with a famine that was devastating Ethiopia and killing millions. Kershaw sang: Wouldn't it be good to be in your shoesEven if it was for just one day?Wouldn't it be good if we could wish ourselves away?Wouldn't it be good to be on your side?The grass is always greener over thereWouldn't it be good if we could live without a care? This was just the chorus. The verses add even more poignancy as they are sung by someone who is suffering an unknown fate, and are addressed to anyone who has better life. Kershaw may have felt like he was singing on behalf of the starving millions to the billions who had enough t at least survive, or he may just have been singing his current hit single, but either way, the song has an eternal resonance. Over the last month or two, I and several people I have spoken with at PHC have noticed a change in the atmosphere in our neighborhood. People are more on edge. Tempers are shorter. Nerves a frayed. Considering what the community members at Peace House Community normal endure (poverty, homelessness, discrimination, apathy, bureaucracy and more), it takes a lot to makes things worse. Maybe covid really has reached the point where it is breaking people’s souls. Maybe the prospect of another winter of either isolation or living outdoors is just too much to handle. Whatever the cause, things really do seem to be getting worse for those at the bottom of the social ladder, even as the stock market soars and those with the resources can start taking vacations again. While [...]

What Time for Forgiveness?

What Time for Forgiveness?

Peace House Community-A Place to Belong By MARTI MALTBY As you probably know, a Japanese Olympic official was fired on the eve of the opening ceremonies because of comments he made in a comedy routine about 20 years earlier. The comments were determined by his superiors to be racist, and so he was relieved of his duties. (I haven’t heard the comments so I can’t comment one way or the other about the accuracy of that interpretation.) This is not the first time that someone has been punished for a comment or action from the distant past that resurfaced as the person took on more responsibility. There was a time when such comments and actions were often overlooked or excused, allowing perpetrators to continue to act in the same way without having any reason to change. While I am glad that society is doing a better job of proclaiming what sort of behavior will or will not be tolerated, I am concerned about how easy it would be to move too far in the other direction. I can easily image us getting to a point where any foolish, flippant or immature comment can become a weapon against the person who made it. For myself, I’ve made many comments throughout my life that I regret and wish I could take back. Some came from immaturity and insecurity, which made me lash out at others whom I perceived as threats. Some were meant to be witty without recognizing that there are certain topics that should not be the subject of flippant comments. At various times in my life, I have been ignorant, insensitive, or so desperate for acceptance that I have said what I thought others wanted to hear rather than what I believed. And sometimes, I have said what I believe, only to have those beliefs evolve over time so that I now disown my previous statements. I know I am not alone in this. I have never met anyone who thinks, speaks and acts in exactly the same way now as they did ten or twenty years ago. This is why I am so worried about old comments and [...]

Life vs. People

PEACE HOUSE COMMUNITY: A PLACE TO BELONG By MARTY MALTBY I recently read “Ghost Rider,” Neil Peart’s memoir, recounting a 55,000 mile motorcycle trip he took to help him deal with personal tragedy. His 19 year old daughter died in a car accident, and ten months later, his partner of 22 years died of cancer (although Peart claimed the real cause was a broken heart). Lost in grief, he left his house in Quebec and rode to Alaska, then south into Mexico and Belize, before returning home. Early in the book, Peart mentions how the deaths changed his perspective on life. Before that point he led a blessed life, untouched by death or disease, with a job he enjoyed as the drummer of Rush (arguably the most successful Canadian rock band of all time). As you might expect, being in a world famous rock band brought many people into Peart’s life, who sought to befriend him superficially, in exchange for what his fame and wealth could do for them. His belief was, as he put it, “Life is good, but people suck.” As he healed from this tragedy, his mantra became “Life sucks, but people are good.” His new attitude stemmed from those who supported him through the blackest time of his life. After his daughter’s death, friends and family took care of his business dealings, ran interference so he wasn’t overwhelmed by well-wishers, and even accompanied him and his partner overseas to prevent either of them from committing suicide as they grappled with their loss. When his partner died, he continued to lean on friends, and during his journey he met others who unwittingly helped him regain his emotional balance. Before he started his trip he received help from people who had been only marginal characters in his life, and he was touched by their concerns. During his trip, few of the people he met knew his plight, but their simple acts of civility and hospitality helped him heal. I have often wondered what makes [...]

Peace House Community: A Place to Belong

Pleased to Almost Meet You By MARTI MALTBY I stole the title for this column from Colin Hay, the lead singer from Men Without Hats. His song “Pleased to Almost Meet You’ is a tongue in cheek commentary on how people these days tend to talk a lot about getting together without ever actually meeting. The song opens with the lines: I'm pleased to almost meet youThe pleasure's almost mineI can see that you're busyPerhaps another timeI'm pleased to almost meet youHere let me get that doorNo need for conversationThey do say less is more Before covid hit, I heard many people talk about being too busy to spend time with friends or family. After covid hit and everyone started interacting through video chats, the discussion focused on how much people missed face to face interaction. Now I’ve heard debates about whether workers will want to come back to the office or stay at home, whether we will keep connecting with far-flung friends through our phones or just go back to meeting at coffee shops, and whether we will gather in places of worship or simply watch online videos of the services from the comfort of our pajamas and living room couches. As the discussions have evolved, I’ve been interested more in the reasons someone would choose one alternative over another. Some argue that returning to the office will spark greater creativity as workers share ideas and experiences, while others proclaim the benefits of being able to focus on a project without being distracted by coworkers. Creativity versus efficiency – which will win? Will we value personal comfort over communal health? I have no idea what our future socializing will look like, or which values will dominate our future interactions, but I have come to a few conclusions. First, I think many people have realized how much they really need to be connected to others. For all the binge watching of television shows and all the online shopping, many of us realized that [...]

It Might Be a Start

PEACE HOUSING COMMUNITY: A PLACE TO BELONG By MARTI MALTBY I recently received a survey regarding racism in the Hennepin County homeless shelter system. The results of the survey will become the basis for a workgroup that will look for ways to eliminate racism from the shelters.  Because of my work schedule I can’t attend the workgroup meetings, so I don’t know what outcomes to expect. I sincerely wish the workgroup success, because they’ve undertaken a big project. Their task intersects with systemic dynamics, volunteer training, racism within the homeless community, mental illness, and a host of other issues. Homeless individuals and families face enough challenges already. Experiencing racism in the middle of the system that is supposed to help them almost defies description in how insulting it is.  Because I received the results of the survey a week or two later, I have seen the variety of views that the workgroup will have to balance. They have a lot of material to work with, but the diversity of opinions about the causes of the problems, and about the way forward, ensure that they will not have an easy time. Even if they find a brilliant solution to the problem, they then have to convince everyone from the system managers at the county level to the volunteers in the shelter kitchens to follow the plan.  While I hope the workgroup succeeds, I am also struck by the irony of their work. This seems like something Kafka or one of the other absurdist authors would describe with glee. Imagine what things will look like for the homeless if the workgroup succeeds. They can sit on hold for hours when calling the shelter intake line, probably only to hear that the shelters are full. Once they get into a shelter they enter a competition for the scarce permanent housing slots. While they wait for their opportunity to move into their own apartment they get to deal with the stress of homelessness and the uncertainty that it [...]

The Never-Ending Tragedy

Peace House Community - A Place to Belong By MARTI MALTBY I’m writing this on February 5, during the first really cold spell we have had this winter. Yesterday was not a shining moment in my career of serving the homeless. One of our community members who has serious physical handicaps mentioned in passing that he needed to get his tent and belongings from another part of town because his life was in danger. I commute to work by bike so I wasn’t able to help him, but his comment about being in danger didn’t register with me and I didn’t look for other resources for him. When I arrived at work this morning a garbage hauler was standing over a collapsed tent in the vacant lot behind the Peace House Community building. As I rode past I recognized the wheelchair sitting next to the tent and realized that the community member was probably in the tent. Worse, because the temperature had dropped below zero during the night, I knew there was a real chance that he had frozen to death during the night. Fortunately he was alive, although he was understandably traumatized by his situation. I brought him into the PHC building and immediately started making phone calls to ensure he would not have to spend any more nights outside when the low temperatures (and most of the highs) are forecast to be below zero for the next week and a half. I desperately want to describe in more detail the community member’s physical condition, or the fear he felt for his life, or the betrayal he felt from his street friends who abandoned him when he needed them most. They could not even be bothered to help him set up his tent. I want to do this to impress on my mind and yours the need to change the way our society treats its members who can’t function “properly” or who aren’t economically viable. Tragically, I can’t, first because I can’t find the words suitable for such a graphic task and second, because the [...]

A Golden Age, or Fool’s Gold?

Peace House Community: A Place to Belong By MARTI MALTBY I try to find positive things to talk about in this space, but I also want to make sure the voices of the homeless and others who come to Peace House Community are heard. Those two goals sometimes conflict, as homelessness and hopelessness often go together, especially in Minnesota in February. The optimist in me sees how much resilience and creativity people have shown in the face of the covid pandemic. I admire and appreciate how these folks have found ways to carry on and even to thrive in adversity. I find hope in people’s refusal to give up, and I am reminded of Saint Augustine’s comment, “This awful catastrophe is not the end but the beginning. History does not end so. It is the way its chapters open.” (I have no idea which particular catastrophe Augustine had in mind, but neither it nor any of the catastrophes since have ended history.) But when I read Augustine’s words, I want to ask him, “The beginning of what? What is going to be written in the chapters we are opening?” Over the centuries many people have made wonderful comments about the golden age that is just over the horizon, and about the inevitable paradise that will result from human progress. Here are just a few samples: “Where children are, there is the golden age.” – Novalis “The golden age has not passed; it lies in the future.” - Paul Signac “The 21st century has more potential than perhaps any other in our brief evolutionary history. We stand on the cusp of computing, genetic and energy generation breakthroughs that were only recently in the realm of science-fiction. A golden age of humanity is tantalisingly within our grasp.” - Clive Lewis And yet every golden age has had its share of throw-away people who have to fight just to live on the fringes of society. The maxim that a rising tide lifts all boats ignores the boats that [...]

Looking Forward

Peace House Community–A Place to Belong  By MARTI MALTBY  A recent email from HousingLink, a local nonprofit that works on low income housing issues, contained links to news articles with depressing titles like:  ● “Elderly and homeless: America’s next housing crisis”  ● “New report shows Minnesota LGBTQ teens and adults overrepresented in homeless population”  ● “Homeless and facing winter in Minneapolis”  ● “Homeless families struggle with impossible choices as school closures continue”  ● “Homeless advocates blame Minneapolis’ continued lack of affordable housing for ‘Wall of Forgotten Natives’ resurgence”  ● “Neighbors object to Ramsey County plan to convert St. Paul hospital into a homeless shelter”  While I try to find positive things to pass on to others, especially during this convergence or homelessness, covid, increasing mental health challenges, and an impending end to the eviction moratorium (a news story that didn’t even make HousingLink’s email), at some point I need to face the fact that life sucks for a lot of people, and it is about to get worse. Some of you reading this know this far better than me because the headlines are speaking about you, or about your friends and neighbors.  The United States has had a homeless crisis since at least the 1980s. By itself, homelessness is bad enough. It robs people of their identities, destroying physical and emotional health, removing security and flaunting the nation’s wealth in their faces. Combined with Covid, it is catastrophic.  Of course, Covid and homelessness are not the only issues out there. Sex trafficking, racism, and any number of other issues have put Americans in perilous positions for decades or longer. Solving these problems is never simple, but it [...]

Coronavirus Update

Coronavirus Update

Keep Calm

Keep Calm

Peace House Community – A Place to Belong  BY MARTI MALTBY  American society seems to have become a lot less civil over the years. I know bullies and those who overreact to perceived slights have always existed, but it seems as though people now think it is their patriotic duty to accuse others of committing a moral wrong every time they hear something that offends them. These days conversations and social media aren’t used to establish mutual understanding as much as to tell other people why they are wrong.  In some ways I can understand why this is happening now. Between the pandemic, economic collapse, social unrest, and the loss of routine and certainty, we should expect that people will be on edge. Emotions are running high, and people will react more strongly than usual to things that upset them. But on the other hand, panic never made anything better. (You can put that on a t-shirt if you think it will help anyone around you.) The middle of a crisis is when we most need calm, level-headed words and actions. Assuming the worst about others when things are already at their worst just adds to the problems.  Minnesota history provides us with a wonderful example of dealing with crisis. On September 1, 1894, an inferno raced across Minnesota from south of Hinkley almost to Duluth. Depending on which account you believe, the fire destroyed over 200,000 acres in anywhere from six days to less than a day. (To put that in perspective, the Carr Fire that devastated northern California a few years ago took over a month to destroy a similar swath of land.) Because the Hinckley Fire moved so fast, the only ways to escape it were to find a body of water to hide in or to board a train. John Wesley Blair was the porter on a train that left Hinkley just ahead of the fire. While many of the people on the train were in hysterics, he moved calmly among the passengers, providing water and reassuring them. Eventually the train [...]

 Page 1 of 3  1  2  3 »